HISTORY CONTINUED-  Knights of Malta to present
The proper name of the Knights of St John is the Sovereign and Military Order of the Knights Hospitaler of St John of Jerusalem - the Knights of St John, the Knights of Rhodes, the Knights of Malta, and the Knights Hospitalers.


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Story of the Ages


Knights of St. John (1530 - 1798) On 23 March 1530, thesmomcoa3.gif (7063 bytes) islands passed under the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, a chivalrous religious order initiated in 1099 and officially founded in Jerusalem in 1113.

 According to the chronicles, merchants from the ancient Marine Republic of Amalfi obtained from the Caliph of Egypt the authorization to build a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem, to care for pilgrims of any religious faith or race.

Together with the Knights Templar, who were formed later in 1119, they became one of the most powerful Christian groups in the Middle East. The order came to distinguish itself in battles with the Muslims, its soldiers wearing a black surcoat

St. John the Baptist is remembered for many things besides being the related ascetic  who baptized Jesus. For both Islam and Christianity, he  is considered the last prophet of the old testament. The Knights first structures in Jerusalem were built where a temple dedicated to him had been destroyed

with a white cross. By the mid-12th century, the order was clearly divided into military brothers and those who worked with the sick. It was still a religious order and had useful privileges granted by the Papacy, for example, the order was exempt from all authority save that of the Pope, and it paid no tithes and was allowed its own religious buildings

With the loss of Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land, to the Moslems in 1291, the Order settled first in Cyprus and then, in 1310, led by the Grand Master Fra' Foulques de Villaret, on the island of Rhodes.  Rhodes  acted as a shield against the Turks for two centuries until 1522 when Suleiman the Magnificent ousted the Knights from Rhodes. After six months of siege and fierce combats against the fleet and army of Sultan Soliman the Magnificent, the Knights were forced to surrender in 1523. They left Rhodes with military honours.

The Order remained without a territory of its own until 1530, when the Grand Master Fra' Philippe de Villiers de l'Isle Adam took possession of the island of Malta, a gift of the Emperor Charles V with the approval of Pope Clement VII. It was established that the Order should remain neutral in any war between Christian nations.

The Knights of Malta at once resumed the manner of life they had already practiced for two centuries at Rhodes. With a fleet which did not number more than seven galleys they resisted the Barbary pirates who infested the western basin of the Mediterranean. They formed a valuable contingent during the great expeditions of Charles V against Tunis and Algiers.  Arab forces were becoming increasingly aggressive and moving west. Christians captured in these raids were being sold for ransom or as slaves. Short of funds, Downloadthe Knights and Maltese become corsairs - a kind of pirate - attacking towns in North Africa and Turkish shipping. The Knights of Malta gave chase to the Turkish galleys. These enterprises did not fail to draw upon them fresh attacks from the Ottomans.

 Solyman II, regretting his generosity, gathered a second time all forces of his empire to dislodge the Christian corsairs from their retreat. In revenge,  Suleyman the Magnificent raided Gozo and sold all 5000 inhabitants into slavery.  In July of 1551, the Citadel was besieged by the Turks of Sinan Pasha. The medieval walls without flanks and terreplein to resist gunpowder bombardment were easy prey to besiegers and the fortifications soon succumbed. A tombstone in the local cathedral conveys some of the horror in its commemoration of the nobleman Bernardo Dupuo, who died fighting the Turkish priates, after killing his own wife and daughters to save them from slavery and concubinage, two fates worse than death. After the terror of 1551, recovery was slow and painful. Some Gozitan slaves were traced and ransomed, but life was shattered and families left permanently split asunder, their various members sold to different owners in far-off lands.

The Great Siege of Malta

In 1565, hearing of a massive build-up of troops in Constantinople, the Order sent out urgent appeals to Christian rulers for help in what they sensed would shortly become a do-or-die combat; at this time Grand Master de Valette had only eight war galleys and 8,000 men at his command.

click on the image to view larger picture of video cassette jacket

THE GREAT SIEGE OF MALTA 1565 is a docu-drama in two 45 minute episodes released for worldwide televisionto coincide with  the 900th Anniversary of the foundation of the Hospitalier Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta

 The siege at Rhodes had taught the Knights to leave the countryside bare of people, animals and crops, and turn the fortifiable points into war cities, fully stocked with food, water and ammunition. As the inland capital of Mdinaseemed vulnerable, Malta's defence rested defence rested ultimately on the Grand Harbour complex, particularly St Elmo fort at the seaward end of Mount Sceberras (now Valletta), St Angelo fort at the tip of Birgu (now Vittoriosa), and St Michael's fort on the Senglea promontory.

Arms of the order of the
hospital of the
Knights of Saint John

 On may 18th, 1565, a Turkish fleet of 138 galleys approached the island. About 38,000 men disembarked at Marsaxlokk and eleven days later, another 3,000 men from another 38 ships joined them. The men were led by Dragut and the Bey of Algiers. The siege started with an attack on Fort St. Elmo. It is said that over sixty thousand cannon-balls were fired during the attack. Dragut was killed during the assault on the Fort.  Facing them on Malta were no more than 8000, of whom 700 were Knights and the rest were Maltese or mercenaries. They took refuge in Mdina and Birgu. The First Great Siege of Malta had begun.

The siege of Malta, quite as famous as that of Rhodes, lasted for four months. The Turks had already taken possession of a part of the island, destroying nearly the whole of the old city, slaying half the knights and almost 8000 soldiers, when Malta was delivered by an army of relief from Spain.

Never was Malta's unique position more important. All Europe realized what was at stake. As Queen Elizabeth of England said, "If the Turks should prevail against the Isle of Malta, it is uncertain what further peril might follow to the rest of Christendom." Italy, France and Spain would be open to Turkish invasion...

The advance force from Sicily arrived despite the fate of St Elmo. It numbered only 600 men but, achieving surprise, it made a vital difference. The Knights, their luck holding out, were warned by a Turkish deserter about a plan for Senglea to be attacked from the south, and this gave the Order time to build a line of defensive stakes which successfully repulsed the attack.

Requests for assistance were smuggled repeatedly out of the island. The Maltese were one with the Knights, determined, whatever the cost, to be rid of the Turkish invader-though of the nobles there is barely a word in contemporary records; presumably they sat it out in their palaces in Mdina.

The main relief force set out at last from Syracuse with 8,000 Spanish and Italian soldiers, the dispirited Turks sailed home with only a quarter of their army intact, leaving Malta to its tattered peace.

Malta had lost 219 Knights and 9,000 inhabitants, yet de Valette's genius quickly rekindled the islanders' spirit with a massive peacetime project; the building of a fortified city.

 Throughout our Order, the birthday of Madonna on Mount Phileremos is kept with great solemnity in thanksgiving for the raising of the Turkish siege of Malta on 8 September 1565. A new capital of Malta had to be built, Valletta was named  in honor of the Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valetta under whose inspired guidance the Knights and the Maltese had defied the Turkish onslaught.

Malta, however, was not rid of its most dangerous adversary until the battle of Lepanto (1571) which dealt the Ottoman fleet a fatal  blow.

The Knights quickly improved trade and commerce on the islands, built new hospitals and, most importantly, erected new strong fortifications. This spurred Grand Master de la Valette to build the City of Valletta and its now historic bastions and palaces. Valletta has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

The Knights of St. John had successfully protected Southern Europe and Christendom. After their victory against the Turks, the Knights turned enthusiastically to the further development of Malta and Gozo. A golden era in culture, architecture and the arts followed. Many of Malta's most attractive building were built during this period. The new remarkable fortress city, Valletta, was built.  Valletta is one of the earliest examples of a planned city built on the grid system.

The Knights of St. John, coming as they did from the richest families in Europe, could afford to hire the best talent available and the buildings of Valletta, its fortifications and the art treasures in its museums and churches, are the work of the best European engineers and artists of the time. It was the magnificence of is palaces and other treasures that led Sir Walter Scott to describe Valletta as "The city built by gentlemen for gentlemen."

The Order was governed by the Grand Master (the Prince ofDownload Rhodes) and the Council, minted its own money and maintained diplomatic relations with other States. The high offices of the Order were given to representatives of different Langues; and the seat of the Order, the Convent, was composed of various nationalities.

     The fall of the Ottoman Empire marked the
beginning of the end of the military vocation of the Order. However, the absence of a serious military threat to the Order's existence, and their increasing wealth, arrogance, lack of discipline and debauchery, ate into the moral fabric of the Order.

Eventually, serious problems undermined the Knights' position; tensions grew between the Church and the Knights. The poorer Maltese became resentful. For their part, the Knights became complacent and insular. When Muslim shipping targets became harder to find, and when revolution broke out in France removing a valuable source of income by the confiscation of the Order's property, funds became a problem.

Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan (1775-97) provided money for Louis XVI's doomed attempt to escape from Pair. By the late 18th century around 75% of the Order's income came from the Knights of the French langue, so when the revolutionary authorities confiscated all o the Order's properties and estates in France, the Order was left in dire financial straits.

French 1798-1800 On June 12th, Napoleon entered Valletta bringing to an end 268 years of rule by the Knights of St. John. As a ruse, Napoleon had asked for safe harbor to resupply his ships then enroute to Egypt, and then turned against his hosts once safely inside Valetta. Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch failed to anticipate or prepare for this threat, provided no effective leadership, and readily capitulated to Napoleon. The Knights, because of the Rule of the Order that prohibited them to raise weapons against other Christians, were forced to leave Malta.


Napoleon was a Freemason asDownload were most French members of the Knights of St. John and many others although this was a well-kept secret. In fact rumor has it that Napoleon was "made" in Malta although evidence is scant, it is established that Napoleon appointed his 4 brothers to high rank in the Masonic Brotherhood

  Napoleon spent six eventful days in Malta during which, through numerous edicts, he tried to transform the island into a typical "Department" of France. It is also considered the most likely time for his initiation into Freemasonry.

 In 1800 the British occupied Malta, but although the sovereign rights of the Order in the island of Malta had been recognized with the Treaty of Amiens (1802), the Order was never allowed to return to Malta, although the French knights were allowed to remain German Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch (1797-98) was given three days to gather belongings and vacate the island. The Order continued to exist in a diminished form and negotiated with European governments for a return to power. The Emperor of Russia gave the largest number of Knights shelter in St Petersburg and this gave rise to the Russian tradition of the Knights Hospitaller and recognition within the Russian Imperial Orders.

[Napoleon Bonaparte]
La Malmaison collection
Napoleon appointed his brothers to Masonic office: [clockwise] Louis (1778/08/02 - 1846/07/25) was named Deputy Grand Master in 1805; Jerome (1784/11/15 - 1860/06/24) was Grand Master of the Grand Orient Westphalia; the eldest, Joseph (1768/01/07- 1844/07/28), was made a freemason at the Tuilleries in April of 1805, and appointed Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France; and Lucien (1775/05/21 - 1840/06/29) was a member of the Grand Orient of France.
Free Masons were the successors of the Templars whose vengeance against the successors of King Philip the Fair had been accomplished by Napoleon himself more
Napoleon departed for Egypt, weighted down with much in looted treasure from the many palaces and churches of the Knights. Most of these treasures were lost at sea and have never been recovered following the battle a few months later when the British Navy under Admiral Nelson destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. The sunken treasure has not yet been found.
Napoleon left behind a garrison of 4000 men but the Maltese soon revolted and invited the English to join them. A naval blockade was enforced under the command of Captain Alexander Ball and the French garrison capitulated in September of 1800
The Treaty of Amiens (March 1802) provided for the return of Malta to the Knights but the Maltese appealed to the British to stay to prevent their return to governance. The British were inclined to allow the Knights to return despite appeals from the Maltese when war again broke out with France in May 1803. the strategic importance of Malta was underscored by Admiral Nelson who had previously been indifferent to British presence on Malta. "I now declare that I consider Malta as a most important outwork...I hope we shall never give it up." he wrote.

The Black Madonna

filermos.jpg (266658 bytes)
The Madonna on Mount Phileremos was long considered the Knights most precious possession believed that it was painted by St. Luke (like Poland's Lady of Czestochowa ) and brought to Rhodes from Jerusalem about the year 1000. Its fame as a wonder-working image was known all over the Aegean. After the Napoleonic conquest of Malta in 1798, it was one of the few treasures that Grandmaster Ferdinand von Hompesch was permitted to take out of the island. On 12 October 1799, after the resignation of Hompesch, it was presented, together with the relics of the Hand of the Baptist and a splinter of the True Cross, to Tsar Paul I who had, meanwhile, been elected Grandmaster by knights seeking a new benefactor. After a complex journey from Denmark to Berlin  the icon was  sent to the Orthodox Monastery of Ostrog, near Niksic, in Montenegro. The original icon of Our Lady of Philermos, now in the National Museum of Cetinje, Montenegro
With the recent success of the Da Vinci Code some sources like
wikipedia trace Black Madonna's extraordinary veneration to the story that Mary Magdalene fled to France with Jesus' child following the crucifixion. However hundreds of the icons each stand on their own as the source of miracles in their community. The USA state of California was named after a Black Queen who was said to have fought on the side of  Knights in Turkey. Throughout the history of Christianity, Black Madonnas often achieve a special mysterious place in the hearts of their subjects like in Mexico



Emperor Paul I, Grand Master Order of St. John, 1798-1801. The  Emperor of Russia Paul I was murdered in 1801 after coming to the aid of the Knights of Malta.


After having temporarily resided in Messina, Catania and Ferrara, in 1834 the Order settled in Rome, where it owned the Palace of Malta in Via Condotti 68 and the Villa on the Aventine, both of which have extraterritoriality status.

From then, the original hospitaller mission became the main activity of the Order, and grew stronger throughout the last century, especially because of the contribution of the activities carried out by the Grand priories and National Associations in the various countries of the world.  French rule in Malta, was short-lived. By 1800 the Maltese, with the help of Nelson, drove the French garrison out of Malta and sought the protection of the British throne.

British (1800 - 1964) Malta and Gozo became formally a British Crown Colony in 1813 and the island was slowly transformed into a fortress colony.  

The second great siege came during World War II, Malta was one of the staging areas when the islands strategic importance at the center of the Meditereane brought early attention in 1940. Malta had to be defended but the early months saw much damage as the islands' air defenses, initially composed of three Gloster Gladiator biplanes which the locals immediately christened Faith, Hope and Charity, were brought up to scratch with the inclusion of Hurricane and Spitfire fighters.
Over 1941 and 1942, 3000 raids occurred, the Maltese resistance to the Axis bombardments during the second World War is legendary

 Once again, the tide turned in Malta'a favour. But not before King George VI made a gesture unique in history. On the 15th April, 1942 he awarded the George Cross to the Maltese Nation, an honour still proudly borne by the Maltese on their flag.

The scroll accompanying the medal reads "To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history

Both General Dwight D. Eisenhower and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were visitors to the island and FDR paid tribute to the Maltese people for their valorous service to the war effort by presenting a plaque on December 8th, 1943.

   Malta became independent in 1964 and adopted a Republican Constitution in 1974.

Malta joined the European Union on May1, 2004. It is expected to adopt the Euro as its currency sometime in 2008. It's position on abortion finds Malta by itself as the most religiously conservative  with the only total prohibition [malta+prohibition google search] Malta will no doubt serve the rest of the Western world well as it attempts to reconcile its deeply felt spiritual values with its history as a harbinger of the new ages.

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