Valletta’s other cathedral
St. John’s cathedral with its numerous treasures (and two Caravaggios for good measure) is probably Valletta’s top attraction. Curiously for such a miniscule city it is not the capital’s only cathedral. Tucked away in one of lower Valletta’s most pleasant squares is the city’s second cathedral – the island’s primary Anglican place of worship and one of Valletta’s iconic landmarks.
St Paul's Pro-Cathedral (officially The Pro-Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Paul) is situated in Independence Square, and occupies the site on which once stood the Auberge of the German Langue of the Order of Saint John. The cathedral is one of three in what is called The Diocese in Europe (the other two are in Gibraltar and Brussels) which geographically is the largest diocese of the Church of England, covering Europe (excluding the British Isles), Morocco, Turkey, Mongolia and the territory of the former Soviet Union.
St Pauls Cathedral Valletta construction came about after a visit to Malta by Queen Adelaide, consort of King William IV of the United Kingdom. While on a visit to Malta in 1838 Adelaide was somewhat taken aback that the British in Malta were at the time without a proper place of worship – with Anglican services being held in a room at the Grand Masters Palace.
Queen Adelaide laid the foundation stone in 1839 and the cathedral was completed by 1844. The original designs were by Richard Lankesheer but defective construction led to redesigning by William Scamp.
This Anglican Cathedral Valletta is built in the neo-classical style fashionable at the time and surprisingly it sits quite comfortably in what is otherwise a mostly Baroque city. The cathedral’s piece de résistance is the sleek belfry, rising to some 200 feet and dominating the Marsamxett side of Valletta. The interior, as with most Anglican churches, is somewhat bare and austere, in sharp contrast with Malta’s much more decorative places of worship. Highlights of the cathedral include the oak panels around the High Altar, a memorial to the Allied units which took part in the defence of Malta during World War II. Twelve flags hang in the aisles representing amongst others the Royal Air Force, the British Merchant Navy, and the Royal Navy. The church’s organ is also of interest, dating from 1684 and originally housed in Chester Cathedral, where the composer George Frederick Handel is said to have played on it while he was on his way to Dublin for the first performance of his Messiah.
The cathedral is set to celebrate 175 years of existence in two years’ time but this anniversary is overshadowed by a recently launched appeal for funds to restore the building. The appeal to raise €3 million for the cathedral comes after recent inspections identified serious problems threatening the Cathedral’s spire and stonework. Ironically the cathedral receives no official support from either the Maltese government or the Church of England but there is faith that benefactors will dig in and help restore the structure to its original grandeur.
The Cathedral is open daily from 08.30 to 12.30 and some afternoons as a quiet place for prayer and contemplation.