The Co-Cathedral of St. John, designed by the Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar and built by the Knights of St John Order between 1573 and 1578, is simply a “must see” for any Valetta tourist. In 1816, according to a papal decree, this architectural masterpiece and one of the most outstanding buildings in the Malta capital achieved a status equal to the one of St Paul's Cathedral in Mdina, the official seat of the Malta Archbishop. Hereof the name ‘Co-Cathedral’ appeared.
Being one of the most fascinating Baroque buildings famous throughout the world, the St. John's Co-Cathedral is also a metaphoric symbol of the Knights of St John Order. The cathedral’s façade, being very simple, reflects pragmatism of the Order members, and its rich interior with painted vaults and ceilings, marble floors, and numerous gold-plated decorations, reflects the Order’s power and wealth.
Every piece of decorations in this place deserves special attention as almost each of them belongs to precious treasures of various arts. Thus entering inside you will be astonished by beauty of the marble floor in front of you, with each section of it having its own message. The quadrangles of the floor mostly depict such characters as skeletons, skulls or similar ones. Still some pictures of angels and icons can also be found there. Probably some visitors cannot even understand at once that the whole marble floor is actually a number of tombs, about 400 of them. Mostly the Knights and some other noble people are buried there. These tombs also have metaphoric meaning, stating death inevitability and delight of beyond life.
Great treasures of the Cathedral are the Oratory and Museum attached to it. The Oratory stores two priceless Caravaggio’s paintings. One of them portrays St Jerome writing and the other one depicts St. John’s beheading. As to the Museum, it stores a precious collection of 17th century Flemish tapestries created on the basis of Rubens’ drawings, collections of vestments, 16th century Graduals of L-Isle Adam, and illuminated choral books.
Visiting the St. John Co-Cathedral, be sure to study attentively the ceiling and side altars painted by Mattia Pretti and depicting scenes of St. John’s life. In general, the ornamentation of the cathedral is very rich: every wall and every rib is encrusted with ornaments and one can spend hours observing them.
One more place requires particular attention – these are chapels dedicated to the Virgin of Philermos, the place where the Knights prayed before going to battle. They also kept there the keys of fortresses captured. Today some of these keys are exhibited for the visitors.
In fine, having visited St. John's Co-Cathedral, one of the most popular places of interest in Valetta, you will see a great number of valuable pieces of art. Moreover, things you can see or know there will give you much better understanding of Malta history. So even if you are usually not keen on seeing religious buildings, the Co-Cathedral will be an exception and you will be impressed by real uniqueness of this place.