Archive for the ‘2013 December – Malta’ Category

St John’s Co-Cathedral – Valetta

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Malta

St John's Co-Cathedral Valetta

Golden Glory


The Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Hospitallers, Order of Hospitallers, Knights of Saint John and Order of Saint John, were among the most famous of the Western Christian Military Orders during the middle ages.

Founded around 1023 to provide care for poor, sick or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land, they quickly took on a new role after the Western Christian re-conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, the organisation became a religious and military order under its own Papal charter, and it was charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land.

Many of the most significant Christian fortifications in the Holy Land were built by the Templars and the Hospitallers. At the height of the Knights of Jerusalem,  the Hospitallers held seven great forts and 140 other estates in the area. These divided into priories, subdivided into bailiwicks, which in turn were divided into commandries.

However when the Kingdom of Jerusleum fell to the Islamic invasion headed by Saladin in 1291 (the city itself fell in 1187) the knights were left without a base, but in 1309 they set themselves up in Rhodes and constructed the Palace of the Grand Master. The impressive walled city withstood the attacks of the Sultan of Egypt in 1444, and a siege by the Ottomans under Mehmed ll in 1480. Eventually, however, Rhodes fell to the large army of Suleiman the Magnificent in December 1522. The few surviving knights were permitted to retreat to the Kingdom of Sicily.

In 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as King of Sicily, gave up to the Order the island of Malta.

The knights fortified three cities of Cospicua, Vittorisa and Senglea, which were in turn enclosed by the massive line of fortification called the Cottonera Lines. The Ottoman Empire was a constant threat to the knights and The Great Siege – in 1565 – saw an attacking Turkish force of 180 warships carrying almost 30,000 men being repelled by 600 knights and some 6000 soldiers and volunteers led by the intrepid Grand Master Jean de la Valette

The attack had shown they were vulnerable from an high ridge overlooking their position to the north over the grand canal, which meant the Ottoman armies could rain down cannon fire from above. So they utilised that high point and on 1566 the first stone was laid for the new city of Valetta on the Xiberras peninsula.

As the knights settled into their new city in 1571 (thanks mainly to the 1000’s of slaves who built the city on their behalf), they found themselves without their initial reason for existence: assisting and joining the crusades in the Holy Land was now impossible, for reasons of military and financial strength along with geographical position.The knights instead turned their hands to policing the Mediterranean from the increased threat of piracy, most notably from the threat of the Ottoman backed Barbary Pirates operating from the North African coastline. This role, however, undermined the historic roles of cities such as Venice and Genoa.

With diminshing incomes the knights turned from policing the mediterranean to piracy ceasing ships as they pleased, living lavishly as wealthy, play boys  – This coupled with the decline in moral christian ethics – many touted the knights as “mercenary sea-dogs

After the knights upset Napoleon by only allowing him to have two ships in dock at any one time – thus meaning he was exposed to Admiral Nelson’s fleet – he ordered that his ships fire their canons on the city in dis-satisfation. The Grand Master forced into a humiliating surrender of Malta to Napolean.

The knights continued to exist in a weakened form in Russia, out of St Peterburg, electing Tsar Paul as their Grand Master.

After WW1 and WW2 the order returned to fulfilling it’s original purpose from 1023

Today The Sovereign Military Order of Malta has diplomatic relations with 104 countries, with numerous ambassadors. It issues its own passports, currency, stamps and even vehicle registration plates and has a permanent presence in 120 countries, with 12 Grand Priories and Sub-Priories and 47 national Associations, as well as numerous hospitals, medical centres, day care centres, first aid corps, and specialist foundations, which operate in 120 countries. Its 13,000 members and 80,000 volunteers and over 20,000 medical personnel – doctors, nurses and paramedics – are dedicated to the care of the poor, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, terminal patients, lepers, and all those who suffer. The Order is especially involved in helping victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters by providing medical assistance, caring for refugees, and distributing medicines and basic equipment for survival.

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