St John’s Co-Cathedral
St John’s Co-Cathedral is a Baroque church in Valletta, Malta. It was built by the Order of St. John between 1573 and 1578, having been commissioned by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière as the Conventual Church of Saint John (Maltese: Knisja Konventwali ta’ San Ġwann). The Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar designed the church, and he also designed several of the more prominent buildings in Valletta. In the 17th century, its interior was redecorated in the Baroque style by Mattia Preti and other artists.
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Stepping into the historical heart of Valletta, visitors are transported back in time to witness the captivating grandeur of St. John’s Co-Cathedral. This awe-inspiring architectural marvel stands as a testament to the island’s rich cultural heritage and religious significance. Let us embark on a journey to discover the captivating secrets held within its walls.
Brief Introduction: An Overview of St John’s Co-Cathedral
St John’s Co-Cathedral is one of the most important Baroque buildings in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination. The cathedral is known for its lavish interior, which is decorated with marble, gold leaf, and paintings by some of the most famous Baroque artists.
In several Maltese churches, you may notice two clocks displaying different times. Local folklore suggests that the clock on the right shows the accurate time for the religious locals, while the clock on the left intentionally shows the wrong time. This belief stems from the notion that the misleading clock confuses Satan, preventing any disruptions during Mass and other religious gatherings.
The Order of St. John was a military order of knights that was founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century. The order moved to Malta in 1530, and St John’s Co-Cathedral was built as their headquarters. The cathedral consecrated in 1578 and served as the seat of the Grand Masters of the Order until 1798.
St John’s Co-Cathedral is located in the heart of Valletta, Malta. The cathedral is a short walk from the bus terminus near City Gate. The main entrance of the cathedral is in St John’s Square, but the visitors’ entrance is from Great Siege Square in Republic Street, facing the Law Courts.
What to See and Expect in the Cathedral
As you step inside St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the sheer grandeur of its architecture will leave you spellbound. The soaring vaulted ceilings adorned with gold leaf and intricate patterns, marble columns, and meticulously crafted stone carvings create an atmosphere of awe and wonder. The fusion of Baroque and Mannerist styles reflects the exuberance of the era and the impressive craftsmanship of the Knights of St. John.
The stunning high altar, crowned with a beautiful wooden baldachin, serves as the focal point of the cathedral. The grand organ, with its imposing pipes, adds to the splendour of the place, providing an occasional accompaniment during special religious services or concerts held within the cathedral.
The Co-Cathedral houses an exceptional collection of art, making it a treasure trove for art enthusiasts. Among the prominent works, Caravaggio’s “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist” stands out as an unparalleled masterpiece. The painting’s dramatic use of light and shadow captivates viewers and showcases Caravaggio’s unrivalled talent. Additionally, the cathedral displays a remarkable array of religious paintings and sculptures by renowned artists of the time, each telling its own compelling story.
The cathedral’s chapels are a sight to behold, each dedicated to different knights and saints. Adorned with elaborate decorations, statues, and paintings, each chapel exudes a unique aura of devotion and reverence. The Chapel of the Langue of Aragon, for instance, boasts stunning frescoes, while the Chapel of the Langue of Italy showcases splendid marble reliefs, captivating visitors with the diverse artistry.
This intimate chapel, located behind the main altar, is a hidden gem within the cathedral. Decorated with intricate gilded designs, it serves as a quiet place for prayer and reflection. The oratory’s serene ambiance offers a moment of respite, allowing visitors to contemplate the religious significance of the cathedral and its historical context.
Scattered throughout the Co-Cathedral are tombs dedicated to notable Grand Masters and distinguished members of the Order of St. John. These grand sepulchres are adorned with intricate carvings and epitaphs, commemorating the lives and legacies of these revered individuals. The tombs are a poignant reminder of the cathedral’s deep ties to the island’s history.
To enhance visitors’ experience, the Co-Cathedral offers several amenities, including guided tours and audio guides available in various languages. These informative resources provide a deeper understanding of the cathedral’s history, the art within, and the religious significance that still resonates with many to this day.
The cathedral also has a gift shop that sells souvenirs and religious items.
The cathedral is open to the public from Mondays to Saturdays between 9:00 and 16:45. (last entry at 16:15 hrs) It is closed on Sundays and public holidays. Be sure to check for any seasonal variations or special events that might affect the opening hours.
Admission is €15 for adults, €12 for seniors and students, and free for children under 12 years of age. For ticketing, visitors can purchase their passes at the entrance or opt for online bookings to avoid queues during peak times.
Tips of Visiting
- To make the most of your visit, consider arriving early in the morning or during quieter times to avoid the crowds.
- As a place of worship, the cathedral appreciates modest attire, and visitors should maintain a respectful demeanour throughout their exploration.
- Wear comfortable shoes, as you will be doing a lot of walking around the cathedral.
- Don’t forget your camera – the stunning craftsmanship and ornate decorations are a feast for the eyes and perfect for capturing lasting memories.
- Allow at least 2 hours to visit the cathedral, including the museum.
- If you are visiting during the summer, be prepared for hot weather.
In conclusion, a visit to St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta, promises an unforgettable experience that immerses visitors in the island’s rich history and artistic heritage. As you step out of its magnificent doors, you’ll carry with you not only the beauty of the cathedral but also a newfound appreciation for the profound cultural legacy it represents.
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