All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page added in March 2012.
(detail of a statue of St. Catherine of the Wheel in the parish church of Zejtun)
In 1291 Acre, a port in northern Palestine, fell into the hands of the Mameluke Sultan of Egypt: it was the last remnant of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem: its loss led
Pope Boniface VIII to call the first Jubilee Year, in 1300, which granted special
indulgences to those sinners who visited Rome and prayed at St. Peter's tomb, thus replacing the pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
When the Knights left Rhodes, the season was not favourable for sailing, so they reached Candia (Crete), a Venetian possession, where they waited for weather conditions which allowed them to reach Sicily. Grand Master Villiers de l'Isle then started a sort of pilgrimage across Europe to talk to the Pope, to the Kings of England and France and to Charles, who was at the same time Holy Roman Emperor (V) and King of Spain (I). The Grand Master hoped to be given another island or a maritime territory from which the Knights could continue to operate against the Ottomans and possibly reconquer Rhodes.
Results of the mission were disappointing as all the leaders he met tried to make use of the Knights for their own profit. Eventually he accepted the proposal of Charles V who offered the Order: a) the County of Malta (Malta, Gozo and three nearby islets), which was a fiefdom of Sicily; b) Tripoli, in today's Libya, which the Spaniards had conquered in 1510.
Hopes of reconquering Rhodes soon vanished because of the political and religious divisions among the Christian Nations which were supposed to help the Knights. Tripoli was lost in 1551, so Malta became by necessity the permanent home of the Order of St. John.
Cittą Notabile (today's Mdina) was the main town of the island and the see of its bishop, but it was located inland so the Knights chose to place their headquarters at Borgo (the name in Italian indicates a settlement outside a town) which was well positioned inside a very large natural harbour. Auberges, hostels where the knights of each tongue (country) lodged or just met, were therefore built at Borgo, which was renamed Cittą Vittoriosa after having withstood an Ottoman siege in 1565. Consistent with the motto of the Order Pro Fide, Pro Utilitate Hominum (For the Faith, In the Service of Humanity), the Knights built a small hospital, although no pilgrims called at Malta on their way to the Holy Land.
The mission of the Knights during their stay at Malta focused on attacking Ottoman ships and raiding the coasts of Ottoman territories, especially those of Tunisia. They also confiscated goods belonging to Muslim or Jewish merchants on board Christian ships. Their constant aggressive behaviour was summarized by Emanuel Bowen, Royal Mapmaker to King George II of England, in the note shown above. The title of this section is The Pro Fide Knights because during their stay on Malta the Hospitallers did not attach great importance to Pro Utilitate Hominum, the second half of their motto.
The image used as background for this page shows a detail of a painting in the Grand Masters Palace at Valletta showing a Maltese warship in action.
Note: the naming of Maltese locations is often confusing: today's Mdina was Melita for the Romans, Medina (walled town) for the Arabs, Cittą Notabile during the Aragonese rule, Cittą Vecchia (old) after the foundation of Valletta and eventually Mdina in 1934 when Maltese became an official language alongside English and Italian was dropped from official use.
In this section locations are referred to by the names they had at the time the event occurred/the monument was built.
Brief outline of the history of Malta before 1530
The Grand Masters of the XVIth century
The Grand Masters of the XVIIth century
The Grand Masters of the XVIIIth century
Valletta: the fortifications
Valletta: the churches
Valletta: other monuments
Borgo/Cittą Vittoriosa (Birgu)
Cittą Cospicua (Bormla)
Cittą Vecchia (Mdina)
Churches in the minor towns
Other monuments in the minor towns
Rome and Malta
You may wish to see a section on the Castles of the Crusaders in Syria some of which belonged to the Hospitallers.
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