Visiting the first church of Valletta

The small “Our Lady of Victory” is significant for the history of Malta because it was the first church erected in Valletta. The Grandmaster Jean Parisot de Valette, to commemorate his victory over the Ottoman invaders during the Great Siege in 1565, ordered that a church would be the first building of the new fortress city of Valletta. Works began in 1567, and tradition considers it to be the site where the foundation stone of Valletta was laid on 28 March 1566.

Our Lady of Victory church served as the first church of the Knights of the Order of St John in Valletta until 1577, when the new Cathedral of St John was completed. Grand Master La Vallette was buried in the Church after his death in 1568 until 1579 when his successors ordered to move his remains to the St John Cathedral. In 1617 it became the Parish Church of the Order.

Our Lady of Victory - Paintings of the vault
Our Lady of Victory – Paintings of the vault

The church underwent modifications towards the end of the seventeenth century by Grand Master Perellos y Roccafull and was remodelled once again in the mid-eighteenth century by Grand Master Pinto de Fonseca with the baroque facade you see today. The facade also includes a bronze bust of Pope Innocent XII.

Known by the local people as “Tal-Vitorja”, the Church commemorates two great victorious episodes: the lifting of the Great Siege on the eve of 8 September 1565 and the capitulation of the Italian Fleet to the allied forces on the same day in 1943.

Inside the Church

So as most of the churches in Malta, Our Lady of Victory contains many artistic treasures. The most magnificent is the vault paintings (commissioned by Grandmaster Perellos in 1716) by the Maltese artist Alessio Erardi that depicts episodes from the life of the Blessed Virgin and constitutes a rare example of Maltese baroque art.

The church boasts five altars:

  • Altar of St Liborius of Paderborn,  Bishop of Paderborn and patron saint of those suffering from gallstones, that features a painting of the saint by Ermenegildo Grech dating back to 1795. A statuette of the infant Jesus of Prague (patron of the unborn children) is worshipped on this altar. It is a porcelain copy of the one at the Our Lady of Victories Church in Mala Strana, Prague,  donated in 2006 by the Maltese Association of the Order of St John.
Altar of St Liborius of Paderborn
Altar of St Liborius of Paderborn
  • Altar of St John the Evangelist that features an altarpiece depicting St John on the island of Patmos writing the Book of Revelations. His symbol, the eagle, is carved overhead the altar and seraphim decorate the sides.
Altar of St John the Evangelist
Altar of St John the Evangelist
  • Altar of St Philip Neri (1648), erected after a petition to Grand Master Paul Lascaris de Castellar, and donated by the Grand Prior of Germany, Fra Philipp Wilhelm, whose heraldic arms can be seen on the ledge. The altarpiece depicts  St Philip Neri, the “Apostle of Rome”, experienced profound spiritual revelations which were so strong they inflamed his heart.
Altar of St Philip Neri
Altar of St Philip Neri
  • Altar of St John of God (1745), was the last altar to be established in the church. It was erected by the Chaplain of Obedience of the Order, Fra Domenico Scerri at the request of Grand Master Emanuel Pinto de Fonseca.  In 1797 St John of God was chosen as the patron of the Donats of the Order of St John, the people who were associated with the Order without being full members in any of its grades.
Altar of St John of God
Altar of St John of God
  • The High Altar, built in many precious poly-chrome marbles and embellished by the grand 8 pointed Cross of the Order. It was erected in 1752 by the Bailiff of Majorca, Fra Gerolimo Ribas de Montelieu, whose coat of arms can be seen inlaid in the marble on either side. Behind the altar, you could notice a beautiful painting depicting the Nativity of the Virgin (16th century), two Triptych panel fragments of St John (Patron Saint of the Order of St John) and of St Paul (Patron Saint of Malta), two paintings depicting St Anthony Abbot and St Anthony of Padua (16th century), and a Byzantine Silver Icon of Our Lady of Victory (donated by Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt).
High Altar of Our Lady of Victories
High Altar of Our Lady of Victories

Amongst the exciting collection of paintings of the church you’ll notice “The Holy Virgin and Child” (18th century), a painting found at the foot of the titular painting of St Philip Neri and donated by Fra Philip Wolfgang von Guttenberg (the Bailiff of Brandenburgh and notable dignitary of the Order), a great devotee of the Virgin. His coat-of-arms can be seen at the bottom of the painting. The painting is a copy after Carlo Maratta, and the original one is housed in the Pinacoteca Vaticana. Last but not least, the neoclassic monument to the Grand Admiral Angelo Emo (1802), who died in Malta in 1792 while on a naval campaign, and, as he wished, his heart is conserved here while the rest of his mortal remains are conserved in Venice.

The Holy Virgin and Child
The Holy Virgin and Child
Need to Know
Opening time :

Monday – Friday 08.45 – 16.00 ; Saturday 10.00 – 16.00 ; Sunday 10.00 -13.00. Free entrance.

Related article:

  • Our top 5 churches in Valletta.

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