Built in the 1500s by Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere, the Co-Cathedral of Saint John is one of the most visited attractions in Malta. It has some of the most breathtaking religious art work and iconography inside the building itself and as an architectural achievement, it remains one of the most impressive buildings from this period. The two large bell towers that are positioned either side of the large doorway make this structure easy to recognise and it’s simple dominant presence in Valletta makes it one of the most recognised landmarks in Malta.
The Co-Cathedral is actually divided into nine smaller chapels that are each dedicated to a specific patron saint, apart from one, which is dedicated to Our Lady of Philermos. Each chapel has its own specific characteristics and religious art that reflects the time it was built. For example, the Chapel of the Langue of Aragon, which was built to honour Saint George, features a statue of the well known Saint on horseback by Mattia Preti. This is considered to be one of the artist’s best masterpieces.
The art inside the building is often one of the reasons many tourists decide to visit as there are some incredible pieces on display within the ancient walls. The most famous is Caravaggio’s famous painting, the Beheading of John the Baptist from 1608, which features the execution of the martyred saint. There are also numerous ornate, marble tombstones that feature gilded patterns, coats of arms and images relating to the lives of the knights who were buried beneath them. One of the most attractive and well known is the monument to Grand Master Nicolas Cotoner by Domenico Guidi, which is located in the chapel of Aragon.
Along with the works of arts housed within, it is the incredible interior of the Co-Cathedral of St John that attracts thousands of visitors each year. As a profound contrast to the fairly plain and functional exterior, the inside of the building is one of the most decorative and ornate religious buildings in the world. Mattia Preti was responsible for carving the walls and painting the ceiling, which still look spectacular after their restoration in the 1990s.
St John’s Co-Cathedral Opening Hours
Though closed to the public on Sundays, visitors are welcome from Monday to Friday between the hours of 09:30 and 16:30. You can also visit on a Saturday morning between 09:30 and 12:30. Admission will cost 10 euros for adults and 7.50 euros for students or senior citizens. This includes a free audio guide which explains some of the more significant features inside the building in some detail. The cathedral is still used for mass on Sundays which many locals attend regularly.
If you are spending some time in Malta, this is one of the must see attractions on the islands. Remember, since it is a religious building to dress with appropriate attire though shawls are available at ticket desk. Even for those without a particular interest in religious buildings and iconography, this triumph of religious architecture provides a fascinating and captivating experience for anybody who appreciates art work and aesthetic beauty. In Malta, during the summer months the weekends are all packed with village feasts which turn the local village into a festa.