Malta – The glory of the Knights

The two previous days had gone very well. I was relaxed on the third day as I’d already made the longer journey on the previous day – the one to Gozo. I got up without any hurry, had some breakfast and then leisurely went to Valletta. The aim was to see the cathedral of the Maltese Knights – the St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Funnily, I just realized while writing this, that the the school where I started was named St. John’s Academy! So it probably was providence that led me to that Cathedral of the same saint after all those years. Or there is simply no connection and it was just one of those random things! But there’s no harm in finding imaginary connections :).

First a bit of history. It was built in between 1572 and 1577. In the 1660’s, the interior was redone in the Baroque style and that’s what we see today. It remained the main church for the Order until the French took over and expelled the Knights. The Bishop of Malta had his seat at the Cathedral in Mdina but some time in the 1820’s, he was permitted to also have the seat here in Valletta and hence, the term “Co-Cathedral” came to be used. 

So, I reached the Cathedral, bought my ticket and went inside. Saying that I was stunned, would be putting it very mildly! It was mind-blowing!

If you look at it just from outside, you cannot even imagine what’s inside. The outside is so unassuming and plain.

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St. John’s Co-Cathedral

And then you get inside from a door on the side and realize what a big mistake it would’ve been to go that far and not go inside Cathedral.

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The Golden Interior

As the Knights of Malta came from different parts of Europe, they made sure of keeping that earthly distinction – even inside the house of God. There are 8 chapels and each chapel is dedicated to the patron saint of each langue. Everything that’s not on the floor is gilded as if to dazzle the eyes of the visitor. 

The floor is fascinating too – it’s covered with tombstones! The dead knights of importance, were buried inside the cathedral between the 17th and 19th century.

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The whole place is covered with amazing sculptures and paintings. But the piece of pride for the Cathedral is a painting by Caravaggio – The Beheading of St. John. There are a few other paintings by him there, but this one is the most famous. His genius lies in the use of light and shadows in his paintings that heighten the realism of the scene.

He was a very talented artist but at the same time had a volatile personality. So he got into trouble with the law several times in his life. In year 1607, he landed in Malta after having to run away from Rome. Within a year, he was made a Knight of the Order of Malta – most probably because of his artistic talent. However, he had to flee from Malta too due to another brush with the law and thereafter, was stripped of the Knighthood. He even received a free pardon from the Pope but unfortunately he died before knowing that, at the age of around 39, due to an attack of severe fever.

After feasting my eyes with all the art in the Cathedral, I finally exited, to find myself facing a blindingly sunny day. I was hungry by then as well. So looked for a place to get some food. Found a good Indian restaurant on Merchant Street. Wondered why I didn’t find it on the first day, when I had to be satisfied with expensive food served by a totally disinterested waitress, at another restaurant not even 50 meters from this one. Anyway, so at this Indian restaurant, there was a lunch express menu (I guess for weekdays) which comprised rice, a curry of your choice and a drink. It was very flavorful and made me satiated and happy. Afterwards, I chatted a bit with the staff and got to know that they had another branch in St. Giljan area. Will tell you more about it in another post.

Strolled around a bit, found lots of silver filigree jewelry shops and made a note of going there later as the time was getting closer for another walking tour that I wanted to take – in the old capital of Malta – the city of Mdina. So I made my way to the bus station outside the Valletta city gate, waited for a while, observing people and clicking pictures until the bus arrived.

I reached early, so looked around, getting a feel of the beautiful fortified town, which once was the capital of Malta but now turns into a ghost town every evening after the tourists have left, leaving behind more or less around 300 residents there. The town right outside its gate – Rabat – though , has more than 10000 residents.

Gate of Mdina

You can read about the beautiful doors of Mdina but I think it would be good to write in detail about this city and my adventures thereafter, in my next post. Until then..

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