St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valetta is impossibly ornate. It was the immensely wealthy Church of the Knights of Malta (chosen from Europe’s leading aristocratic families. Each family had to commit to give the Knights a third of their annual income, and all the Knight’s property upon his death). The Knights of Malta were warrior-medical-monks, originally formed to care for injured crusaders.
The gravestones which form the floor of the church are inlaid in the richest marble and porphyry in pietre dure. The ceiling is covered with frescoes.
It has eight chapels, each belonging to one of the eight “langues” or national groups which made up the Knights of Malta, and of course each tried to outdo the other. These were Provence, Auvergne, France, Castile and Leon, Aragon, Italy, England and Germany, who each lived in separate Auberge, like Oxford Colleges. (This European unity is now mimicked in the European Union, which is a great idea, in my opinion.)
The most moving part of the chapel was Caravaggio’s dynamic, brilliant, moving painting of the beheading of John the Baptist, which bought him membership in the Knights of Malta.
However, not long after the induction which brought him delight and pride, his violent, ungovernable temper led him to attack another Knight, which led to imprisonment (without his paints). Being unable to paint led him to desperation and near-madness, and an escape. He was defrocked as a Knight of Malta in front of his masterpiece which he had donated with such pride, signing his name in John’s spilled blood.
He moved to Naples and died young after more trouble and more brawls (perhaps due to his mercurial manic-depressive temperament, perhaps due to the lead in his paints, which causes depression, personality changes and mental illness, such as plagued Goya and Van Gogh
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And now some images, and observations by Roy
Here are some pictures: First, the main altar.
Any empty spaces on the walls and ceiling are covered with gilt.
The floor is literally coverws with tomb slabs, with reminders of mortality. Unfortunately, chairs and carpet runners laid out on the floor on obscure many of them.