Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is a real testament to Malta’s Catholic faith. Built by the Order of the Knights of Saint John, which was a Catholic Military Order, the city became the capital one year after its construction was completed, that is, in 1571. A jewel of historic architecture, Valletta boasts more than 25 churches and chapels, most of which were originally first built during the 16th and 17th centuries, and which contain innumerable and priceless works of art.
First and foremost among these, one must surely mention Saint John’s Co-Cathedral. Found in Saint John Square and built in the 1570s, this co-cathedral is a distinct architectural treasure designed by the famed Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, and decorated internally by the well-known Italian Baroque artist Mattia Preti. Although its intricately ornate interior is Baroque in style, the co-cathedral’s exterior is of the Mannerist style. It contains nine rich chapels, as well as notable works of art attributed to such painters as Caravaggio, as well as a number of medieval artefacts and tapestries. The floor is covered with inlaid marble tombstones, commemorating the more illustrious knights of the Order of Saint John, as well as a number of Grand Masters.
The Church of Our Lady of the Victories, situated in South Street, is not just the oldest Church in Valletta, but actually the first building to be completed in the city. Built to commemorate the victory of the Maltese and the Knights of the Order over the Ottoman invaders in the Great Siege of 1565, it was chosen by the Knights as their Parish Church at the time.
When one looks at Valletta’s imposing silhouette, one of the most visible features is surely the large round dome belonging to the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation, this church was given to the order of the Carmelites in the 17th century, after which it received its present patronage. The original structure was seriously damaged during the Second World War, leading to the facade being re-designed.
Although almost all churches in Valletta are Roman Catholic, one cannot fail to mention Saint Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, to be found in Independence Square. This Anglican Cathedral, commissioned in the 19th century, is one of three such Cathedrals within the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. Its 60 metre-long steeple is a landmark in Valletta, and it is predominantly neo-classical in style.
The Collegiate Church of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck, located in Saint Paul Street, is important, amongst other reasons, for being the focal point of the celebration dedicated to the Feast of Saint Paul, on the 10th of February of each year. This is a very important feast for Maltese Catholics, since it marks Saint Paul’s conversion of the island to the faith. It hosts important works of art by Giuseppe Calì and Attilio Palombi, and was originally designed by Girolamo Cassar in the late 16th century.
Other major churches found in the city of Valletta include the Franciscan Church of Saint Mary of Jesus (Ta’ Gieżu), the Church of the Blessed Virgin of Notre-Dame Liesse (Ta’ Liesse), Saint Augustine’s Church (Santu Wistin), the Church of Saint Roque (Santu Rokku), and the Church and Monastery of Saint Ursula.