St. John’s Co-Cathedral occupies a square block in the historic walled city of Valletta and has an unassuming plain exterior, but a beautiful ornate interior and a fascinating history (e.g. Knights of Malta) that certainly makes it well worth exploring.
St. Johns Co-Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to St. John the Baptist. It was built by the Order of St. John in 1572, completed in 1604 originally with a relatively plain interior, with the fancy baroque interior you see today completed in the late 17th century. The church is considered one of the finest examples of high Baroque architecture in Europe.
St. John’s remained the church of the Order of St. John until the Order was expelled from Malta during the French occupation in 1798. The Bishop of Malta was allowed to use St John’s as an alternative church, thus it became a Co-Cathedral.
The cathedral was severely damaged by aerial bombardment in World War II, narrowly escaping destruction. The contents of the cathedral had been transferred elsewhere before the bombardment, so fortunately no works of art were lost. The cathedral was rebuilt and restored in the 20th century, restoration work that continues until 2017. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Malta.
The cathedral’s interior is beautiful, with fancy carvings and many wonderful art displays. The nave and altar area are amazing and more photos are found at the bottom of this post. Also, there are nine elaborate side chapels, all worth exploring.
Hands down the most famous art in St. John’s is several paintings by the great Caravaggio, one of my personal favorites. Caravaggio was in exile in Malta in the early 1600s having fled here from Sicily because of legal problems in Italy (something about brawling and murder). While living in Malta, Caravaggio contributed several paintings to the church, the most famous of which is the The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1608). It is the only painting signed by the artist and is considered one of his best works….
The oratory also houses Caravaggio’s Saint Jerome Writing (1607–1608)….
Another impressive feature of the church is the collection of marble tombstones in the floor of the nave, under which lie buried 400 knights and leaders of the Order (the closer to the front, the more important a knight you were). Many of these are very ornate. Adjoining the church is the St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum containing art objects.
The cathedral is open to the public from Mondays to Fridays between 09:30 and 16:30, Saturdays 09:30 and 12:30, and is closed on Sundays and holidays. The entrance fee is €10 for adults, including an audioguide available in the common languages.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)