The various Grand Masters of the Order of St John donated several sets of liturgical vestments to their conventual church to be used for important ceremonial occasions.
The inventories of the Order record thirteen such gifts which are made out of silk and satin and profusely embroidered with multicoloured silk yarns, often using gold and silver threads.
The colour of the vestments was chosen carefully according to the liturgical calendar to add symbolic meaning to the liturgy.
Of particular interest is the set donated by Grand Master Nicolas Cotoner. The vestments are richly embroidered with floral motifs, many of which carry a symbolic meaning.
These manuscripts relate to the early part of the Knights’ stay in Malta. They are by far the most beautifully executed choral books on the island. There are three sets – all gifts of various Grand Masters.
The Graduals of L’Isle Adam
The largest and most important set consists of ten illuminated choral books. They were given to the church as a gift by Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam who reigned from 1521 to 1534. His coat-of-arms in frequently displayed on them. This type of choral book is called a gradual that consists of chants for the Mass of the Roman Catholic church made to accompany the service.
Each choral book features hand painted illuminations of exceptional beauty, with gold leaf as a background adding to their brilliance. These splendid miniatures (as they are called due to their minute detail) reflect the current artistic trend.
The Verdalle Antiphonaries
The set of choral books, bearing the coat-of-arms of Grand Master Verdalle are referred to as antiphonaries, they contain the sung parts of the divine office (the musical sections used during daily services, at the various canonical hours of the day that do not feature in graduals).
The Verdalle antiphonaries number seven in total and contain the Proper and Common of saints. All are made from parchment and have several illuminated initials.
Antonie de Paule’s Antiphonaries
The collection of Grand Master Antonie de Paule consist of two manuscripts in parchment. They are antiphonaries for the Temporal cycle of the church year.
Reliquary of the hand of St John the Baptist by Ciro Ferri
This was made to house the relic of St John the Baptist’s forearm.
A most precious relic for the Order, this was the hand that baptised Christ in the river Jordan.
The monstrance was ordered by Italian Grand Master Gregorio Carafa whose coat-of-arms can be seen prominently displayed. It is made of bronze and gilt with silver ornaments and was cast in Rome by Ciro Ferri, a well known sculptor whose style was particularly influenced by the leading Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini.
The relic had a golden reliquary studded with precious stones. However, this was confiscated in 1798 when Napoleon invaded Malta.
The relic itself was taken out of Malta by the last Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch as he fled the island.
Christ the Saviour
The monumental bronze image of Christ the Saviour was commissioned from Alessandro Algardi, the famous Bolognese sculptor working in Rome.
The statue arrived in Malta in August 1639 and was originally installed in a large free-standing niche at the Grand Harbour. Originally Christ the Saviour held a globe in one hand and had the other raised, blessing those who arrived and departed from the Grand Harbour of Malta.
The sculpture has recently undergone restoration and, for preservation reasons, is kept indoors in the museum entrance. A replica of the original sculpture was placed on the pediment of the façade.