Saturday, October 4, 2014

Magnificent cathedral highlight of first day in Malta

We arrived in Malta early in the morning, the weather hot and humid. We were pleased to arrive at our home for the next while, Palazzo Valletta. Frank, the owner, greeted us and recommended some coffee shops. There are lots of Sicilians in Malta and they do know how to make coffee. We opted for a little basement shop, our steaming espressos accompanied by croissants filled with marmaletta (the other choices were ricotta or Nutella). It was just what we needed to revive ourselves after a ridiculously early morning flight.

We began our exploration of Valetta with a tour of St John’s Co-Cathedral, a gem of Baroque art and architecture built in the 1500s as the 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. The church remains an important shrine and sacred place of worship. The origins of the order known as the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta, date back to around 1050.

The Cathedral contains seven rich chapels, each dedicated to the patron saint of a different ‘langue’ (or section) of the Knights. The Chapel of the Anglo-Bavarian Langue was formerly known as the Chapel of the Relic where the Knights used to keep relics they had acquired through the centuries. There were chapels for Provence, France, Italy, Germany, Auvergne and Aragon, and one chapel for Castile, Leon and Portugal. Each chapel seemed more ornate than the last. The painting depicting The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Caravaggio is the most famous work in the church.

Another impressive feature of the church was the collection of marble tombstones in the nave under which were buried important knights. The more important knights were placed closer to the front of the church. The tombstones were richly decorated with the coats of arms of the knight and other images often telling a story of triumph in battle.

By now the cathedral was becoming much busier with tourists from a cruise ship. It was time to acquaint ourselves with our room.

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