Historical Summary

knights of malta

The exploits of the Knights of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem – the Knights of Malta – are one of the most shining examples of bravery and devotion in history.

It all began around the year 1048 when Blessed Gerard set off from Amalfi with his brethren on their journey to provide care for pilgrims in the Holy Land.

With the permission of Al-Mustanşir bi’llāh, the Caliph of Jerusalem, they built a hospice (dedicated to Saint John the Baptist) near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The hospice was open not only to members of the Christian community but also to whomever might have need of treatment and sustenance, regardless of creed. They oversaw the construction of a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, later known as Santa Maria dei Latini “la Grande”, as well as the building of two hospitals, one for each gender.

When fundamentalist religious fervour prevailed over a more healthy spirituality and led to the Crusades, the “Hospitallers” took on the role of defenders in addition to their humanitarian efforts, thus becoming a military Order in addition to a charitable one.

In 1099, the leader of the first Crusade, Godfrey of Bouillon, donated his possessions in Montboire in Brabant (Belgium) to the Order in gratitude for the treatment given him at the hospital consecrated to St. John the Baptist. The Order was subsequently enriched by similar donations from other Princes of the Crusades, such as Roger I of Sicily.

In 1104 the Hospitaller Order was recognized as an international organization by Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem.

In 1113, Pope Pasqual II gave his official approval to the Order with the Bull “Piæ Postulatio”. The Order thus became known as the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem and took as their emblem an eight-pointed cross (as there are eight Beatitudes), already used as a symbol of Amalfi, from where the original founders hailed). Their motto was “Pro fide, pro utilitate hominum”.

Venerable Gerard died on 3 September 1120 and was succeeded by Raymond du Puy who was given the title Grand Master.

It was from this point that the leader of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem – the Knights of Malta – was referred to with this title.

The charitable acts performed by the Knights were and still are directed towards all people. A good example of this took place in 1187. In that year, Jerusalem had fallen to the Ottomans and ten Knights were given permission to remain in the city to take care of the Christians who had not been able to pay the ten crowns which Saladin had fixed as the price for their freedom. The Knights took it upon themselves to pay the tribute until they could no longer afford it. The praise of such generosity towards the needy of all faiths reached the ears of Saladin, who wished to confirm whether this was in fact true. He therefore disguised himself as a Muslim beggar and arrived at the door of the hospital where he was immediately offered shelter and food.  He accepted the hospitality, but refused to eat for two days. The third morning he was asked what he wanted to eat, and he replied that he wished to eat the thigh of the Grand Master’s favourite horse. Without hesitation the Grand Master ordered that the horse be slaughtered, but before this was done Saladin intervened declaring that his appetite was already satisfied by the great generosity afforded him.


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Order Of The Knights Of Saint John Of Jerusalem - OSJ

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