St John’s Co-Cathedral: Valletta’s Baroque Gem

Discover the Baroque Splendor of St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta

St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta is a Baroque masterpiece that reflects the rich heritage of the Knights of St John (also known as the Knights of Malta). As one of Malta’s must-see sights, thanks to the contrast between its façade and the richness of its interior, which will leave no one indifferent. The austere façade of St John’s Co-Cathedral is in stark contrast to the splendor of its interior. It is one of the most impressive Baroque temples in the world, housing treasures such as two masterpieces by Caravaggio.

A Must-See Attraction in Valletta

Built by the Knights of Malta after their victory over the Ottomans during the great siege, the co-cathedral of Saint John took almost 6 years to build and became the Knights’ main conventual church (replacing the church of St Lawrence in Birgu) when they moved to Valletta, which then became the capital of Malta.

The cathedral consists of a central nave and eight side chapels, representing the different languages spoken by the Order, each decorated with motifs and symbols belonging to the nationality they represent: Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon (Navarre), England (with Scotland and Ireland), Germany and Castile (with Portugal). Its meticulous decoration and gilded walls are hard to find anywhere else in the country.

St John's co-catheral's marble floor and tombstones

One of the outstanding features of the building is undoubtedly its marble floor, made up of 400 tombstones of knights and officers of the Order. Each tombstone bears the coat of arms, blazon and epitaph of the knight buried there.  The oldest tomb dates back to 1606!

The St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum

Adjacent to the church, the Saint-Jean co-cathedral museum is currently being renovated, enlarged and refurbished. When it reopens, you will be able to discover its impressive collection of Flemish tapestries (designed by Peter Paul Rubens), liturgical vestments, illuminated prayer and choir books (antiphonaries), sacred objects and paintings that were once in the side chapels.

Visiting Hours and Tips

St John’s Co-Cathedral is open from Monday to Friday between 9:30am and 4:00pm, and on Saturdays from 9:30am to 12:00pm. We recommend that you are among the first to enter the co-cathedral as it could get crowded, particularly when the cruise liners disembark with their swarms of tourists.

CARAVAGGIO , KNIGHT OF OBEDIENCE IN THE SERVICE OF THE ORDER OF MALTA

Born in 1571, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, better known as Caravaggio, arrived in Malta in 1607 and stayed there for over a year before being imprisoned in Fort St Ange and then fleeing to Sicily. In Valletta, in the cultural milieu of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Caravaggio reconnected to the large church paintings for which he was renowned.

During his stay in Malta, Caravaggio painted “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist” and “Saint Jerome Writing”, both of which are conserved in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral. During his stay in Malta, Caravaggio also painted a picture of a “Sleeping Cupid” and the “Portrait of a Knight of Malta” (Fra’ Antonio Martelli), both of which are now on display at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence and the “Portrait of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt with a Page”, on display at the Louvre in Paris.

The Beheading of John the Baptist is an episode from the New Testament that recounts the execution of the saint. The usual representation, which shows the saint’s head detached from the body and handed over to Salome, who then carries it on a tray, is here, in this painting by Caravaggio, presented at the moment of the executioner’s action in the setting of the courtyard in front of the Palace of the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of Malta.

 

Caravaggio - The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist

Explore Valletta After Your Visit

There is so much to see in the open-air museum that is the city of Valletta that our recommendation is to settle down after your morning visit around a table in a restaurant to plan the rest of your discovery of Valletta both above and below ground.

Close to the cathedral, we particularly like the 1st floor of the Luciano restaurant, Italian cuisine in a special setting, as well as the Japanese-inspired cuisine of the Aki restaurant. But if you avoid the 2 very touristy thoroughfares (Republic street, Merchant street), you will have a large choice of top-quality restaurants!

Getting there

Valetta is a few minutes away from The Snop House, as you can see in our transports in Malta guide.
We definitely recommend the ferry service, fast and efficent. After a short cruise through the Grand Harbour, you’ll be ready to discover the co-cathedral.

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