When travelling to the wonderful walled capital city Valletta you must schedule in a visit to St John’s Co- Cathedral, one of the most remarkable and garish of citadels to Christian worship.
It’s an absolute gem of art and architecture, boasting baroque bling on a grand scale, and probably the most outstanding legacy of Malta’s Knights Hospitaller of St John.
Ringing with gold, St John Co-Cathedral stands like a bright jewel, despite being surrounded by a plethora of palaces, museums, ramparts and other grand churches that make up this exciting UNESCO World Heritage site. This is saying something, especially when you consider that Valletta, strategically placed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea (as highlighted in a previous blog of mine) with over 320 historical monuments, is regarded as one of the world’s most concentrated areas of historical sites.
The cathedral draws you in like an Aladdin lamp amid the most ostentatious of treasure troves. Boasting wall after wall of ornately decorated frescos, ceilings, side-chapels and anti-chambers, it also has the most extraordinary marble tombstone floor patterns you are likely to see anywhere on the planet. All designed, carved and immaculately inlaid to give the massive inner-chamber a fairy-tale feeling.
Scenes from the underworld, with skulls and skeletons to match a hard core Hells Angels’ chapter, are punctuated by intricate mosaics highlighting the benefactor Knights’ coats of arms, mottos and individual verses. All of the knights donated gifts of such high artistic value that this enormous shrine remains to this day one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most ostentatious places of worship.
I gasped. This is medieval bling on gigantic scale.
It is capped off by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s (1571 – 1610) masterpiece ‘The Beheading of Saint John’. Positioned, like a centre-piece in a high temple of sacrifice, in a sea of historic tapestries, paintings and frescos.
Although I have celebrated a number of historical Christian citadels of worship with recent blogs – Chapel of Bones (Portugal); Catedral de Santa Maria (Spain); Saint Isaac’s & Spilled Blood (Russia); Rock-Hewn Churches (Ethiopia) – St John Co-Cathedral has to be the most surreal.
In addition to my selection of photos, to get you further in the mood, here’s a 360° view of the innermost chamber.
My advice – get your skates on and start sliding over there.