St John’s Co-Cathedral is a gem of Baroque art and architecture. It was built as the conventual church for the Knights of St. John. The Grand Masters and several knights donated gifts of high artistic value and made enormous contributions to enrich it with only the best works of art. This church is till this very day an important shrine and a sacred place of worship. It is also a venue for cultural events.
Described as the first complete example of the high Baroque anywhere, St. John’s Cathedral epitomises the role of its original patrons, the Knights of St. John. The Cathedral is testimony to the talent of Maltese military architect Gerolamo Cassar, with Mattia Preti’s intricately carved stone wall designs, as well as the painted vaulted ceiling and side altars with scenes from the life of St. John. The Cathedral also houses one of Europe’s most impressive and famous art works – Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The Cathedral was a shrine to the Knights, as many sons of Europe’s noble families from the 16th to 18th centuries lie buried here. Their intricate, marble-inlaid tombstones form a magnificently crafted pavimento. Also a resting place to the founder of Valletta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette, his tomb lies in the crypt, a quiet sanctuary and place of contemplation away from the busy streets outside.
The Parish Church of Mellieha is dedicated to the Birth of Our Lady, and was built between 1881 and 1898. All the stone was cut from a nearby quarry at l-Ahrax tal-Mellieha and transported up to Mellieha by the local peasants, who worked laboriously to see their wish of having a new church come true. Once the church’s building was completed, the Parish Priests Dun Frangisk Magri, Dun Carlo Cortis and Dun Indri Fenech endeavoured to embellish the interior.
Thus between 1920 and 1940 the belfries and dome were erected, five bellsdedicated to St. Frances, St. Joseph, St. Anthony, St. Paul and the Virgin Marywere brought from Milan, and the church altars were decorated with paintings by the best Maltese artists, including the renowned Giuseppe Calì and Lazzru Pisani.
Many churches in Malta and Gozo have works of art made from this onyx but iż-Żebbuġ church is by far the most spectacular. It is covered with this semi-precious stone. The high altar, the choir, and the baptistery are all sculpted out of this onyx.
Iż-Żebbuġ became an independent parish in 1688 and the building of the present church (without the onyx) started in 1690. The church, dedicated to Santa Marija (St Mary) the Assumption, was consecrated in 1726. The Cathedral apart, it is the oldest parish church to be consecrated in Gozo.
Worthy of special mention is the altarpiece of the Immaculate Conception in a chapel in the left transept, known by the locals as tal-Virtut (of the miracles). Local folklore has it that the radiant face of the Virgin turns yellowish and pale before an impending natural catastrophe. It is also said that one day, when some corsairs dared to devastate the countryside as far as the village, a lady that resembled the image in the altarpiece appeared on the spot hurling stones to repel the enemy.
The parish church of Naxxar is dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary and was built by Tumas Dingli between 1616 and 1630. Later on, the church was enlarged and restored with a side isle and a new façade.
Malta has an abundance of architectural history. There are multiple layers within each city ranging from the ancient temples of Tarxien, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra to the cathedrals of St. John’s and St. Paul’s. On the streets of Valletta a more recent history is developing before us in the form of its shop fronts. Some of these wooden frontages, kiosks and painted signs can be traced back to the later part of the 19th century. Their signs reveal what the owners occupations were, the services they offered and what they sold. Bars, Pastizzerias and Stationers are just a few of the types of stores that flourished here. Some are still operating under different shops name but most remain closed and out of use. From a total of 112 stores under protection, only 19 are presented here. (Schembri, Times of Malta [online], 2011).
The Cathedral also know as St. Paul’s Cathedral is the architectural crown of the elegant, walled city of Mdina. A late 17th century masterpiece of Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafà, it lies on the site of a much earlier Norman church that was destroyed by the violent earthquake of 1693.
According to tradition, the earlier church had been built on the site of the house of Publius, the Roman’s chief man on the Islands, who was converted to Christianity by St. Paul in A.D. 60. The Cathedral’s imposing facade greets you abruptly as you emerge from Mdina’s narrow streets. The building is topped by a magnificent dome, possibly one of Gafà’s greatest achievements. the dome has though had a chequered history: a succession of painters have tried to embellish its interior.
Today’s dome interior dates from the 1950s. In the Mdina cathedral, you find works by the Calabrian artist and Knight, Mattia Preti. The pavement of marble-inlaid tombstones carries the coats of arms and inscriptions of the bishops of Mdina and other members of the Cathedral chapter. In the choir behind the main altar is Preti’s monumental depiction of The Conversion of St. Paul. It was part of the original Norman church, and survived the earthquake.
The church is built over the ditch of the Roman city which also included a large part of Rabat. The church is also built over the grotto where according to tradition St. Paul was kept prisoner during his three months stay in Malta in 60 A.D. In 1336 bishop Hilarius refers to the church as ecclesia Sancti Pauli de crypta , and also mentions the cemetery and the Roman ditch. Several churches have been built on the site both by the diocese and the Knights of St. John. The present church was built with funds provided by the noble woman Guzmana Navarra on plans prepared by F. Bonamico. The church was completed by Lorenzo Gafà in 1683.
Birżebbuġa became a parish on the 9th September 1913, and the small church of Our Lady of Sorrows became the parish church; steps were immediately taken in hand to build a larger church which was opened for worship on the 16th June 1938.