Malta cathedrals and churches are scattered just about everywhere on the country’s two largest islands of Malta and Gozo. Even tiny Comino Island, only a mile square and with fewer than a dozen inhabitants, has a lovely parish church as well as a picturesque tower dedicated to the Virgin Mary. St. Mary’s Tower sits on rugged cliffs looking out to sea. It offers a strikingly foreboding appearance, which was the reason it was chosen to serve as the infamous Chateau d’If in the film The Count of Monte Cristo.
The three most important Malta cathedrals are located on Malta Island, largest island in the country. They include baroque St John’s Co Cathedral in the capital city of Valletta. This is the most ambitious and lavish of all the churches in the country, and was built for the Knights of Malta in the latter part of the sixteenth century.
St John’s Co Cathedral in Valletta is a masterpiece of baroque architecture and art built for the Knights of Malta and completed in 1577. Its rather plain façade is flanked by two imposing bell towers, and its interior is classically ornate in the baroque style. It is noted for its fine art, including two famous pieces by the master Caravaggio from Italy. His The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist is the largest of his paintings and is the only one that he is known to have signed. It suffered severe damage during German bombings, but has since been restored. St John’s Co Cathedral is set right in the middle of the Valetta Peninsula and dominates the city’s skyline.
St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina celebrates the reputed shipwreck of the saint as recounted in the Bible’s Book of Acts. This beautiful church graces the ancient medieval walled city that was the first Maltese capital.
According to the Bible’s Book of Acts, St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina sits on the site of the house of the Roman Governor Publius. It was the father of Publius whom Saint Paul healed, leading to the Roman’s conversion to Christianity and the establishment of Malta as a Christian nation. Mdina is the original capital of Malta and one of the best preserved examples of a medieval walled city in all of Europe. The present day St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina was completed between 1697 and 1702 to replace the original Norman church that had been destroyed by an earthquake. The lavish church was designed by architect Lorenzo Gafa from Birgu Vittoriosa. He also designed the Qrendi Cathedral on the southwest coast of Malta Island not far from the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra megalithic temples.
Finally, there is the imposing Mosta Dome in the village of the same name. It is renowned as the third largest dome in Europe, surpassed only by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and St. Peters Basilica in Rome. Its design is based on the Pantheon in Rome. It is unusual among Malta cathedrals in that the majority of the structure consists of the massive dome, but you will find a smaller, signature Maltese dome on most other churches.
Other religious sites in Malta include the seven famous megalithic temples that together comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These sacred temples date to earlier than 3000 B.C. and predate even mysterious Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramids of Egypt.