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Malta History


BEGINNING AND GROWTH OF THE ORDER

THE Holy Land was always in the mind of Christians, and many used to go there on foot, on horseback, or by ship to see the places connected with the life and death of Our Lord. Such pilgrims travelled from every European country, and many arrived there sick, or tired, or robbed of all they had. In 1050, to help the sick, some merchants of Amalfi founded a hospital in Jerusalem, with the permission of the Caliph of Egypt, Master of Palestine. Soon, the men in charge of the hospital, seeing the good fruits of their work and getting the thanks of pilgrims and even of Popes, founded an 'Order' of hospitalises (male nurses) and placed it under the patronage of St. John the Baptist.
By 1098, the Order had received donations of lands and money with which to build better hospitals, and was raised to an Order of religious with a certain Gerald (later, Blessed Gerald) as its first Rector. Then came the Crusaders and, for their great help, the hospitalises received many lands in Europe from which to get money to increase their good work, at the same time, too, the Hospitalises promised to defend the Holy City since the Kingdom of Jerusalem had become weak. Now, they did not only have to cure the sick but they also had to fight. The next Rector, Raymond du Puy, re-organised the Order into a system of Knights and gave them as their emblem, or badge, the 8-pointed cross which we know so well.
He established two classes of members:' Lay Brothers and Chaplains', later, the Brothers were classified as Serving Brothers (Hospitalises, wearing a black cape) and Fighting Brothers (Knights, wearing red tunic with white cross in battle), in 1113, Pope Paschal II officially accepted the Order and placed himself as its protector. In 1187, Saladin destroyed the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the Knights left to go to Margat, to Acre, and, finally, to Cyprus (1291-1310). There they built a large navy and became a strong sea power, the Turks did not like this, and their hatred of the Hospitalises gave them no peace, at the same time, the Knights wanted to stay in a place, which belonged to them, they thought of Rhodes, which, then, was a pirate's lair. In 1310, they attacked it, conquered it, and made it their home for the next 213 years.
So, their 'Grand Master' was an independent ruler, and the Knights, while defending the Christians of the East, became rich and powerful, and built palaces, castes and fortifications against any attacks by the Turks.

THE KNIGHTS LOSE RHODES


When Suleiman II became Sultan of Turkey (1520); he attacked Rhodes with an immense fleet of galleys, barges and other craft, landing many thousands of Turks who besieged the City where the Order had con­centrated its defences.
The first attack was unsuccessful but, with the second, the Turks took parts of the bastions, then, the Knights and the towns­people sent the enemy back, with fresh forces and artillery, the Turks attacked again but failed once more. Suleiman, fearing a total loss, called all forces to their tents. Then, he personally directed an attack on all sides, gained some walls and destroyed guns and cannons, bastions and defences.
At the same time, the defenders were becoming fewer and weaker, and they could not defend the place any longer, but, seeing that all was useless, the Order came to terms with the Turks. Suleiman, admiring the courage of Grand Master L'Isle Adam, allowed him to leave Rhodes honourably and to take with him all the property of the Knights, so the Grand Master and the remaining Knights, together with some 5,000 Rhodians left Rhodes on January 1, 1523, making for Crete, Messina and Civitavecchia

A KNIGHT JOINS THE ORDER

when a young nobleman wished to be­come a Knight in the Order of St. John he had to undergo certain tests, first of all, he had to show that he really was noble and for this he had to show a 'family-tree' that is, a chart showing whom his parents, grandparents, etc., were. (Many of these family trees may be seen at the Royal Malta Lib­rary). One could become a Knight if, at least, his parents and grandparents were of noble blood.
Then, the 'candidate' had to find four persons to recommend him stating that he was a youth of good moral character and of good health for the service of the Order. Sometimes, members of the Order were sent secretly to the young man's town to ask questions about his character. When neces­sary, they even disguised themselves to do this! Then, all the facts were sent to the Grandmaster who studied the results with the Council, if accepted, the youth had to spend a year as a novice and then two years in. the service of either the navy or the army of the Order.
When such a noble youth had passed all his tests, he was considered a fully professed Knight and took the usual vows of Chastity and Obedience



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