The Order of Hospitallers (Malta)

Maltese cross

Like that of the Temple, the Order of Hospitallers was established at Jerusalem after the Crusaders’ capture of the city, its purpose being to care for the sick and the poor. It included military knights for defence as well as chaplains and serving brethren.

Their black habit bore the eight-pointed white cross of the republic of Amalfi, merchants from which had helped to set up the pilgrims’ hospital which gave the Order its name. St. John the Baptist was their patron. Their later history is complicated, including moves as the centuries passed to Cyprus, Rhodes, Candia and - lastly in 1530 - to Malta. Here they settled and were appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor to be the temporal rulers of the island, being displaced only by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. Eventually, the Sovereign Order of Malta, as it had become known, made its headquarters in Rome. It is a wholly Catholic organization, enjoying very great diplomatic privileges and even issuing its own postage stamps. Through its Priories in several countries, it is still concerned with hospitals and other good works.

The English ‘tongue' of the Malta Order was revived in 1831 and developed into the Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, which established the St. John Ambulance Association and Brigade through which such magnificent work is done. It also runs a splendid ophthalmic hospital in Jerusalem.

The Masonic Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem, Palestine Rhodes and Malta can claim no descent from the Order of Malta although its form and ceremonial have undoubtedly been derived therefrom.