Entrance Tickets – St John’s Cathedral, Valletta


“Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe. The city is one of the most beautiful, for its architecture and the splendour of its streets that I know: something between Venice and Cadiz.”  Benjamin Disraeli

Before I go any further, let me agree with Benjamin because Valletta is my favourite European Capital city.

On the second day we decided to take our chances on the buses again and visit the capital of the island, Valletta.  We waited in a long line at the bus stop but luckily most people were going to nearby Bujibba on a different route so when the bus we wanted pulled in to pick up there were still some spare seats.  This didn’t last long and after a few more stops it was packed tight like sardines in a can.  A very warm can!

It wasn’t very far but Malta has one of the highest ratios of car ownership to population so the roads were seriously congested and the nearer we got to the city the slower the journey became until the bus finally crawled into the bus terminus close to the old medieval walls.  The terminus is like a giant roundabout and was clogged with buses all belching fumes and impatiently trying to get in and out.

Valletta Malta postcard

Cathedral of St John, Valletta…

After walking around the city and the Grand Harbour it was time to visit a church and although Kim wasn’t too keen, on account of the fact that the exterior was dull and uninteresting, we bought tickets to visit the Cathedral of St John and even Kim was pleased that we did because inside was a complete contrast with an opulent Baroque interior and a floor of headstones each commemorating one of the Knights of St John.

St John the Baptist…

There was some wonderful things in the Cathedral, art, sculptures, tapestries and finally a room with two magnificent paintings by the artist Caravaggio including the famous beheading of St John the Baptist.

Very good I thought even if it is a bit gruesome…

Caravaggio The Beheading of St John The Baptist

In a Museum there was an explanation that the Cathedral once possessed  the Saint’s right hand, which is of course a very important relic, one of the most important in the Christain World, because this was the hand with which he baptised Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.

Unfortunately and rather carelessly at some point over the last five hundred years it went missing.  No one can be really sure of course but today it is claimed to be in the Serbian Orthodox  monastery in Cetinje* in Montenegro, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and also in a remote monastery somewhere in Romania.

The Baptism of Christ

Several different locations also claim to possess the severed head of John the Baptist. Among them are Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, San Silvestro in Capite in Rome and the Residenz Museum in Munich. Other John the Baptist heads were once said to be held by the Knights Templar at Amiens  in France, at Antioch in Turkey and, most unlikely of all, the parish church at Tenterden in Kent in England where it remained until it was disposed of during the English Reformation as being superfluously Catholic.

I digress here to tell you that we have just had a decluttering exercise at home and have cleared out the attic space and in our frenzy of disposal I can’t help retrospectively wondering if we threw out anything valuable.

The town of Halifax in West Yorkshire (UK) also claims that the head was once buried there in the Church dedicated to St John and the authorities there cling on to this claim by incorporating an image of the head within the town crest.


Anyway, there are thousands of Churches and Mosques dedicated to St John the Baptist.  I used to go to this one every Sunday in the village of Hillmorton, near Rugby where I grew up…

No flash photography rules…

Despite all of the splendour the most memorable thing about our visit came at the very end when we came across an altercation between a German visitor and some Cathedral staff.

He was upset about the no photography rule and wasn’t prepared to listen to reason.  I feigned a sudden interest in the last of the exhibits so that I could enjoy the exchange.

Try and do in a German accent because that is how it works best – “I vant to know who vrote ziz policy”, “I vant to speek to ze man who vrote ze policy”, “Just who has made deeze stoopid rooles”.  I was tempted to join in and suggest that it might be the Big Man himself upstairs.  Eventually the staff tired of repeating their reasonable explanation and he followed them to the offices demanding to have access now to the complantze policy.

I like Valletta, it is a vibrant city, an eclectic mix of Naples, Palermo, Porto and Marseilles and only spoilt by the fact that it has become a cruise ship destination which means more jewellers, boutiques and pricey restaurants.

I really do not like those awful cruise ships!

Malta Valletta St Johns Cathedral

* I have driven through Cetinje  in Montenegro and have to say that it seems a distinctly unlikely place to find the hand of John The Baptist.

38 responses to “Entrance Tickets – St John’s Cathedral, Valletta

  1. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Can you just lend us a hand”. And you must remember “Over here son! On me head!”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Have head will travel? It also feels everyone wants a piece of the action (truth of lie) about possession of head or hand. 😛 o_O


  3. Blimey, I bet there aren’t too many people whose favourite European capital is valetta.I can’t comment as i’ve never been to Malta, and I know I should do something about that sooner rather than later. Actually, you’ve just reminded me I missed the final installment of Wilbur’s list…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I will definitely go soon! Looks great.


  5. Pingback: A to Z of Cathedrals – V is for Valletta in Malta | Have Bag, Will Travel

  6. I bet the local shops didn’t mind the cruise ships.

    And, I too would like to know who made up the stupida regola.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think they do, actually. Cruise passengers apparently don’t spend a lot and they keep regulars, and longer-term tourists away.


      • That is how I understand it too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s not my experience on the cruises I’ve been. I know Hawaiian port businesses relied on ship traffic as did many of the Alaskan ports. It’s true that many locals don’t like them, but the businesses do (except hotels and rentals).

        Of course, Europe might be different … I read a lot of complaints from Andrew about the cost of things, so I wonder if “regular” tourists are any better.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I always complain about the cost of things. It is my job!


      • I think Europe’s experience may be different. They fetch up in already crowded tourist hotspots on the whole.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Even though I stared it I am not getting involved.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Best that way .. 😉


      • There’s another thing I should mention . . . in places I’m familiar with, there are two kinds of businesses. Regular visitors and long-term visitors typically don’t shop at the same places that casual tourists and day-visitors frequent. This I know from having visited Hawaii multiple times and then having lived there for three years. My habits were completely different after I’d visited the islands a few times and got to know them.

        I avoided tourist traps . . . but those businesses rely on the visitors who only have a short time there and are not familiar with the place.

        As far as cruises, excursions are big business for local taxi, bus, and van operators. Now, if you’re a local, those are a nuisance because you’re likely to have a bus disgorge 50+ people in what just a few moments prior was a quiet spot you were enjoying.

        While in Hawaii, we would not plan any outings when a cruise ship was in port, or, if we did, we avoided the most popular areas.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good points, all of these. I’m just a Grumpy Old Woman when it comes to cruise ships, because of their detrimental environmental impact on all sorts of fronts.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Amusing account, Andrew. So would Valetta make a good place to stay, rather than fight the traffic? I imagine it would, for a few days.


  8. If you thought it worth buying a ticket it must have been good

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You really are the Master of the Quirky Fact. Or facts in your case. Love ’em!


  10. Bravo and again for every one of these posts.Now I’ll hafta go out and do a few more Aussie ones. But I will never be able to compete.


  11. I also love Valetta and Malta on the whole. And if I ever went back I would definitely stay in Valetta itself, there is so much to see, plus all the island buses leave from there. I haven’t been inside the cathedral, though did visit the Grandmaster Palace way back in 1979 when I lived in Paceville for a month. Unfortunately it was closed during my more recent visit.


  12. We also loved Valetta both times we visited Malta. The cathedral is such a stark difference from outside to inside.


  13. The German was a real piece of work, Andrew. Reminds me of Lederer and Burdick’s book “The Ugly American,” written way back in 1958. It was required reading when I did my Peace Corps training in 1965. Hopefully the vast majority of Americans are more sophisticated now, but there will always be that one exception.
    On cruise ships. I am now a fan of River Boats as a form of cruising. The 105 people on our boat had no more impact than a couple of tour busses, or 25 cars carrying 4 passengers each. We were free to go on tours or wander freely. Most of the time we chose the latter.
    Here’s another question for you. We are planning to do river boat tour on the Nile in March. Afterwards we are thinking about spending a month in the Greek Isles. Would you choose one Island for a month or four islands, etc at one week each. If you were to choose one island, which one would it be? –Curt


    • Tough one Curt. A month in one place might be too long in my opinion. Always choose islands without airports or cruise ship docks. My personal preference is the for the Cyclades and my first thought would be to recommend the islands of Naxos, Paros and Amorgos all reachable from Santorini (if you really wanted to go there) personally I would avoid it, it is not authentic.

      Alternatively fly to Athens and take the Blue Star ferry to Serifos, Sifnos, Milos and Folegandros.

      If you like the look of the Dodecanese Islands rather than the Cyclades you could see Rhodes, Kos and Symi and maybe even get across to Bodrum in Turkey.


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