Facade of the St John’s Co-Cathedral
St John's Co-Cathedral is the pearl of baroque on the Maltese islands and beyond. The first stone was laid in 1571, just after the Great Siege of 1565, and it is dedicated to the Patron Saint of the Maltese Knights, St John the Baptist. Grand Master Jean l'Evesque de la Cassi're (ruled 1572-1581) was the driving force behind the building of the conventual church for the knights of the Order of St John. The design was in the hands of the Maltese military architect and engineer Girolamo Cassar (born c. 1520).
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On the outside, the church is simple and austere, in line with the fortifications surrounding the city of Valletta. The only 'frivolity' is the entrance, often said to be of the Mannerist taste. The balcony, on which a Grand Master appeared after his investiture, is supported by Tuscan columns. On top of the façade is a bronze copy of a bust representing Christ the Saviour, with the text 'Salva Nos', 'Save us'. The original of the bust, by Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654) can be admired in the museum part of St John's.
The interior of St John's has seen great changes over the years. In the beginning, the church was as austere and bare as its façade. Over time, the Grand Masters and a good number of knights commissioned many pieces of high quality art and at present there is a large collection of sacred vestments, Flemish tapestries, choral books and a portrait gallery. In the Oratory there are two paintings of the famous Italian artist Caravaggio. The church floor is often referred to as the 'floor of floors' or 'the most beautiful floor in the world', and consists of more than 400 polychrome intarsia tombstones and a number of sepulchral monuments of the knights and Grand Masters of the Order of St John. In the churchyard there is a mass grave of all the knights of the Order who died during the Great Siege.
The ceiling of the nave is a masterpiece of the Italian painter Mattia Preti (1613 - 1699), whose nickname was Il Cavalier Calabrese (the Knight of Calabria). Before he came to Rome he trained and worked in Venice, Rome and Naples. He single-handedly painted the colossal barrel-vaulted ceiling of St John's, between 1660 and 1666, with a sequence from the Gospels about the life and martyrdom of St John the Baptist. He was further active as 'house' painter at St John's and made many designs for sculptures and tombstones. Mattia Preti loved to paint "trompe l'oeil", of which many samples can be seen throughout the ceiling painting. The figures painted just below the ceiling, all the saints and blessed persons of the Order, seems to have a three dimensional quality. They not only cast their shadow on the gold leaf of the arches of the ceiling, but also on their pedestals.
The church has a nave with interconnected side chapels, forming aisles. Each Langue of the Order (Auvergne, Aragon, Castile, Leon & Portugal, Anglo-Bavarian Langue, Provence, France, Italy, Germany) acquired the care of such a chapel, dedicated to their own patron saints. The most important chapel is that of Our Lady of Philermos.
St John's Co-Cathedral is, besides a museum and an events' location, also a very active place of worship. There is a dress code and one is expected to behave respectfully. Stiletto heels are permitted as these could damage the delicate floor of the church.
Mondays to Saturday
9:00 to 16:45
Advice 30 minutes before closing
Ticket / admission fee
Adults (18-59 yrs)
Children (1-11 yrs)
There may be differences with ticket prices on the day and between on location at the box office and online tickets.
Latest news and original website of the attraction / spot / advent
Additional Online information
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Photo below: Entrance to the cathedral.
Photo below: In the floor are more than 400 tombs in the floor. All tombsstones have been examined and unscripted. The research into the approximately 400 graves and tombstones is included in a book, which you can buy at the kiosk at the exit.
Photo below: This cathedral has many surprises, you will be amazed!
Photo below: Baroque altar.
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