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The carved stone walls and painted vaulted ceilings are a tribute to the life of St. John and designed by the artist Mattia Preti. This cathedral also houses the tomb of the founder of Valletta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette
From journal Malta - Paradise in the Mediterranean
Ayr, Scotland, United Kingdom
April 7, 2005
The Maltese are immensely religious, so it's not surprising that you can scarcely turn a corner without finding a church - every village or town has at least one church. The most important contributing events were the spreading out of the Turkish Empire during the Renaissance and the rise of the Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem.
The Knights added to Malta and Gozo's existing church legacy, so now 365 churches dominate the skyline. These range from chunky fortresses to exquisite cathedrals. In this one tiny country you can see the changing church architecture, role and decoration from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance to the modern era.
The most historically significant is the co-cathedral of St. John, built by the Knights in the 1570s. Described as the first complete example of the high baroque anywhere, it epitomises the role – spiritual and military - of its patrons.
St. John's received Co-Cathedral status with the Cathedral at Mdina in 1816 under Pope Pius VII. The stark façade is reminiscent of the fortifications of Valletta, the fortress city in which it stands. Startled by its joyful and lavish baroque and yet tasteful atmosphere from floor to ceiling inside showing the Knights’ deep appreciation and patronage of culture and the arts, I gazed in wonder. Paintings, gilding, or carving cover almost every last piece of the walls, vault and chapels. Sir Walter Scott called it the most beautiful interior he had ever seen.
History and culture are everywhere in this cathedral. Mattia Preti painted the massive vault using oils straight on the stone. These paintings show episodes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The roomy nave has on either side chapels decorated with lavish monuments of the Grand Masters and with precious works of art.
The great Italian painter Caravaggio painted some of his finest works while serving here. The cathedral museum contains his priceless 1608 masterpiece The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, while one of the nine chapels on either side of the nave contains his well-known painting of St. Jerome.
The smooth polished marble floor of the nave covers the graves of 364 Knights, whose colourful armourial bearings and Latin inscriptions are themselves works of art. It is a spectacular building and a fitting resting-place for the founder of Valletta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette.
The Cathedral Museum contains priceless works of art, ancient hymn books, sacred vestments, and famous Flemish Tapestries based on paintings by Poussin and Rubens. During June, the month of the festival of St John, the tapestries adorn the church interior itself.
Several booklet and other specialised publications are on sale at the Cathedral gift shop. These give details of the history and the art treasures of this unique monument. Entrance is from Merchants Street, and the entry fee is LM1 for adults--children are free.
From journal Malta: History's Isle