Valletta’s St John’s Co-Cathedral from a local’s lens

I’ve never seen anything like St John’s Co-Cathedral. Being Maltese I might come off as biased, but I’ve seen a fair share of stunning cathedrals in Europe and, although they all have their grandeur, St John’s Co-Cathedral is on a level of its own.

How often do you come across the epitome of high Baroque architecture in Europe, with a humble and simplistic facade designed by Girolamo Cassar, which is then heavily contrasted with a richly ornate interior by Mattia Preti, including some of Caravaggio‘s masterpieces?

The other popular cathedrals I’ve come across in Europe tend to have a rich exterior (take the Duomo the Milano and the Duomo di Firenze, the Sagrada Familia, Notre Dame) that is enough for the traveller to talk of their majesticness. Not St John’s Co-Cathedral. This, to me, gives it even more value because only those who are curious and walk in can truly experience its magnificence.

What’s inside? As you step in you’ll realise the marble floor you’re on is covered with tombs in which about 400 Knights and officers of the Order of St John lie. You look around you and the intricately carved Maltese limestone walls (which were undertaken in-place, may I add) will captivate you. You look up and you’ll admire the vaulted ceiling with paintings by Mattia Preti, whose use of shadows and placement makes his subjects appear like 3-D statues. As you walk on the sides of the cathedral, you’ll come across nine gorgeous chapels (one per patron saint of each of the Order’s eight langues, and the ninth dedicated to Our Lady of Philermos). Close to the altar there are stairs which lead you to a crypt that houses the tombs of Grand Masters. Behind the altar is a realistic marble statue of Christ’s baptism. Finally, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1608), one of Caravaggio’s most known masterpieces, stands in a room for viewing.

As a local, I have some really fond memories at St John’s Co-Cathedral, such as mass on a Sunday morning (where a much younger me would get lost in the ceiling’s details and in the angles’ expressions in the columns), or listening to the national orchestra’s music complementing the cathedral.  

This is why, when my Dutch partner suggested revisiting Valletta as tourists I jumped on the wagon.

I took a few shots of next year’s European Capital of Culture 2018, but my priority for this post was to capture the details that have for so many years fascinated me at St John’s Co-Cathedral.

I hope these images encourage you to visit St John’s Co-Cathedral, if you haven’t done so already.

If I’ve succeeded, here are the St John’s Co-Cathedral’s opening hours.

Do let me know what you think of it in a comment below!

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