Located in Valletta, Malta’s capital city, St. Johns Co-Cathedral was built by the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John (known as the Knights of Malta) between 1573 and 1578. Upon claiming victory over the Turks in 1565, The Knights decided to move their headquarters from Birgu (Vittoriosa) to the Sciberras peninsula where they built the city of Valletta – named after the Grand Master during the victory, Jean de la Valette.
Commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master , Jean de la Cassière, as the conventual church of the Knights, the church was designed by the Maltese architect Glormu Cassar.
Glormu Cassar was also behind the design of several other landmark buildings in Valletta. Named conventual in the sense of the convent, the church was later raised to equal status with the archbishop’s cathedral at Mdina. Co-Cathedral is explained by its use during the 19th Century – in the 1820s, the Bishop of Malta, whose sole see was at Mdina up until then, was permitted to use St John’s as an alternative, giving the place of worship the name, Co-Cathedral.
Inside, the baroque paintings depicting the life of St. John and intricate stone-carvings were mainly the work of Calabrian artist and Knight, Mattia Preti. The cathedral contains 8 chapels, each one dedicated to the Patron Saint of each of the langues (subdivisions) of the Knights. The most famous painting in the Maltese Islands is found in the oratory of the cathedral, Caravaggio’s The Beheading of John the Baptist (1608). Another famous Caravaggio work is also found there, St Jerome 111. Another interesting feature is the tombstones of more important Knights of the Order – these are intricately carved and contain the Coat of Arms of the Knight who lies at rest beneath each.
Alongside the cathedral is the museum which contains several works of art and tapestries belonging to the Knights, as well as the painting of St. George Killing the Dragon by Francesco Potenzano.
Opening times are Monday to Friday: 09.30 to 16.30 (last admission at 16.00). Saturday 09.30 to 12.30, Closed Sundays and Public Holidays.