History of the Knights of Malta
The Order of the Knights of Malta of Saint John of Jerusalem, can trace its beginnings to 1040 A.D. At that time, Knights in the Order of Saint John were recruited to protect the busy commerce flourishing between the Italian city of Amalfi and the Holy Land. In its earliest years, the new Order, largely composed of Frenchmen, fought against the Caliphs of Baghdad and Egypt who attempted to rob merchants doing business in the Holy Lands.
To counter the influence of Baghdad and Egypt, the Caliph of Jerusalem, in 1048, established a treaty with the Knights. He gave them a site close to the Holy Sepulcher, in his city, where they erected a chapel, known as Santa Maria ad Latinos and two hospitals for sick and weary pilgrims.
Though French, the Knights traced their descent from the ancient city of Alexandria in the Holy Lands. It was at this ancient and flourishing city that thousands had been converted to the New Faith by the disciples of Christ. After coming under the influence of the Byzantine Empire, the city had become Maronite -- of the Eastern rite. Yet, it held to its Christian beginnings even under the Arabs.
Long having an association with the Holy lands, it was not unusual that the Knights should seek a meaningful relationship with their origins. It was thus that in 1080, a powerful Knight know as Brother Gerard (of French origin) established a relationship with the Caliph of Jerusalem to build a special hospice for pilgrims and a cloister for his knights and soldiers.
In 1099, following the fall of Jerusalem to the knights of the First Crusade, Brother Gerard returned to the city. With the permission of its new overlords, he established the Knights Hospitallers. The hospice was run by Benedictine monks and nuns from Amalfi, Italy.
In 1113, Gerard abandoned the Benedictine rule for that of Saint Augustine. The Hospitallers were created as an independent religious order by Papal Bull. Under the command of Raymond du Puy, a successor to Brother Gerard, the Order expanded until it protected all the main ports of embarkation. They also established hospitals for the sick and infirm.
The Order, which traditionally attracted the flower of French chivalry, had the honor of supporting the French king and later Saint-Louis IX, during the 7th crusade. In 1249, King Louis IX, with an army of 40,000 knights and troops, in conjunction with the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, captured the key fortress city of Damietta, a major port in northern Egypt.
Because of its association with Saint John, the Order, from its beginning, has celebrated June 24th with feast in honor of Saint John's Day. In modern times, its bylaws call for the official Language of the Order to be in Latin or French.
From its inception, the Order has enjoyed 900 years of continuity. It can trace an unbroken link, by blood and heredity, to its beginnings in the Holy Land. The Knights of Malta derive their present-day title from the island of Malta which they heroically defended in 1565 against Turkish attacks.
Without the steadfast courage and bravery of this hospitalier Order, all Europe would have been engulfed in the Turkish Empire. Modern history, as we know it, would have been altered beyond comprehensive belief. Though military, the Order still recalls its commitment to the poor and the sick. Its 900-year-old tradition of service to the less fortunate still continues in every priory where it flourishes.
Although the Order and its Priories are now autonomous, they receive the blessings of His Holiness, John Paul II, Alexei II, Patriarch of All Russia and several other prominent religious leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Rite.
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