As we sailed into Valetta, Malta, it was like seeing an ancient Biblical city that time had forgotten. Most of it’s buildings were constructed in the 1600s during the rule of the Knights Hospitaller, or the Order of St. John, one of the most famous Western Christian military orders of the Middle Ages. They were dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
Their mission was to follow the crusades, which were widespread military expeditions by the Roman Catholic Church to regain the Hold Lands that were taken by Islamic conquests who imposed their Muslim religion. The Knights were successful in regaining possession of the Holy Lands from the Turks, freeing the people from Muslim rule. Grandmaster, Jean de Valette led the siege, from whom the city then took his name. To date, Malta is 99% Roman Catholic in great thanks to the Knights.
This city is absolutely mythic. The narrow meandering streets are crowded with ancient buildings and ancient Renaissance cathedrals and Baroque palaces with 2,000 years if history. The entire city was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1980. The old and historical building have now been filled with little shops and eateries but there is still plenty of old world charm to take you back in time.
They don’t say much on the cruise ship about St. John’s cathedral, but it’s so that we can be surprised when we see it ourselves, and holy mackerel, what sight to behold! The church was build by the Knights of Malta and is considered of the finest examples of high Baroque architecture in Europe and of the greatest cathedrals in the world.
The interior is over-the-top ornate, with intricately carved stone walls, painted vaulted ceilings, and side altars decorated with scenes from the life of St. John, each dedicated to a patron saint.
I was totally fascinated by the marble floors, which are an entire series of tombs, housing 375 knights and officers of the order. The exquisite workmanship is interwoven with the knight’s coat or arms, his victories and traits, lions and trumpets to represent valor, and skeletons and skulls symbolizing death and eternity. The detail and intricacy is just breathtaking to see.
This entire church is such a miraculous work of art, such a glitter of gold, such exquisite detailing of which we have never seen the likes. This church will long be in our memory.