St John's Co-Cathedral
The St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta was designed by Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar. Built between 1572 and 1577, having been commissioned by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière, the cathedral is dedicated to St John the Baptist, patron saint of the Order. The church’s interior is considered to be one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Europe.
The church’s interior was modestly decorated for the first century of its existence. However a redecoration was ordered in the 1660s by Grand Master Raphael Cotoner, so as to rival the great churches of Rome. The embellishment was largely in the hands of Calabrian artist Mattia Preti, who completely transformed the interior to its Baroque style. He designed the intricate carved stone walls and painted the vaulted ceiling with scenes from the life of St John the Baptist.
The cathedral hosts one of Caravaggio’s most prized masterpieces, The Beheading of St John the Baptist, using the chiaroscuro style for which the artist is famous. It is the largest work he ever painted, and the only one he signed himself.
The collection of 400 ornate tombstones adorning the cathedral floor are another impressive feature of the building. These tombstones, in inlaid-marble pietradura style, also include the coats of arms of the knights buried beneath, as well as images of triumphs and achievements relevant to that particular knight.
The Cathedral’s exterior is built in the Austere Mannerist style, typical of its architect. With a plain but well-proportioned façade, reminiscent of a fortress, it is adorned with two large bell towers. Doric columns support an open balcony, which at the time of the Knights was used by the Grand Master to address people on important occasions.
The Cathedral is open to the public, with a variety of audio guides in different languages available to visitors.