Located in the heart of Malta’s capital city Valletta, St John’s Co-Cathedral is one of the spots high on every tourist’s must-visit list.
Built by the Knights of St John in the late 16th century, the building and its interior have a vast history to share with visitors. Here’s some interesting facts about St John’s Co-Cathedral, ready for your next visit to this stunning Baroque Maltese gem.
1. It’s a Co-Cathedral
The clue is in the title – St John’s is in fact a co-cathedral. As co-cathedrals share the function of being the bishop’s seat with another cathedral, St John’s shares this with the metropolitan cathedral of St Paul’s in Malta’s former capital city of Mdina.
2. It’s an Art Gallery
When the Knights of St John built the co-cathedral as their conventual church in the 1570s, the Grand Masters donated many notable pieces of artwork for the interior décor.
The most famous work in the church is one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces, a painting depicting The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, which is the largest canvas created by the renowned artist and the only known painting signed by the painter himself.
3. The Stunning Interior includes an Optical Illusion
Step inside the cathedral’s interior and you are met with a stunning view of golden and extremely ornate decorations. Calabrian artist and knight Mattia Preti is responsible for the original décor at the height of the Baroque period, designing the intricately carved walls and painting the vaulted ceiling.
When you visit, look especially closely at the figures painted next to each column and you might notice an optical illusion added by Preti, clearly a man ahead of his time – at first glance the figures appear to be three-dimensional statues, but are in fact paintings made to look as such through his clever use of shadows. You really have to see it in person as photos wouldn’t do it justice…trust us!
4. The Famous Marble floor has Hidden Messages
The polychrome marble floor alone has visitors flocking to the co-cathedral to marvel at it. Including angels, skeletons and various divine and ethereal icons in its incredibly precise artistry, each unique section of the floor has a distinct theme or message about the inevitability of death and visions of the afterlife.
5. It’s a Building of Historic Importance
Besides the exquisite interior decoration, the building itself is so historically important that it is even listed in the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands.
Considered to be one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Europe, the intricate details, coupled with the fortress-like exterior, reflects the general mood of the Order of St John in the years following the infamous Great Siege of Malta in 1565.
Click here for useful information about St. John’s Co-Cathedral, including opening hours, visit prices and directions.
If you’re in the mood for more historical sightseeing, check out 4 Reasons Why You Should Visit the Palace Armoury in Malta, 5 Historical Homes You Must Visit and 5 Unmissable Historical Sites in Malta!