Just got back from another amazing trip to Malta, a place that never seems to disappoint. If you have never been, the one thing you will notice is the million different shades of beige. Malta is fortunate to have loads of limestone and trust me they have used it to build everything. Some even say that it was intentional, due to its strategic spot in the Mediterranean they did not want to attract attention to passing ships. But don’t be deceived by this monotone external appearance as they are most certainly full of colour. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Co-Cathedral of St John; [Co-Cathedral because it shares the diocese with the cathedral in Mdina]. From the outside an uninspiring building, made from … you guessed it, limestone, but when you go inside it is an explosion of the visual senses.
Built in a record 5 years from 1572 to 1577 by the Knights of Malta, it was commissioned by the Grand Master Jean de la Cassière as a conventual church, “Chiesa Conventuale di San Giovanni Battista”. It remained a modest church for over a century but in the 1660’s Grand Master Cotoner order the redecoration of the interior and the transformation began. The person responsible was the Calabrian artist Mattia Preti, who embellished the church in an elaborate Baroque design. From ornate gilded columns, the finest marble busts and sculptures, an impressive altar with inlaid semi-precious stones and a larger than life sculpture of the “Baptism of Christ”. Preti personally painted all the vaulted ceiling with scenes from John the Baptist’s life. An artist ahead of his time because he gave the figures a three-dimensional appearance by adding shadows. The floor of the cathedral has some 400 tombstones, all decorated with intricate inlay work depicting the life of the honoured knights. The Cathedral is also home to one of the largest paintings by Caravaggio, “the beheading of John the Baptist”, an exquisite example of chiaroscuro where a ray of light shines on the focal scene of the painting. One of the few paintings signed by the artist. An interior the epitomizes the hidden gem that exemplifies Malta.