It's A Dramatic Story
Sovereign Order of Malta provided a week of celebrations in Rome on February 2013 for the 900th anniversary of Pope Paschal II’s Solemn Privilege Pie Postulatio Voluntatis of 15 February 1113, that officially recognised the monastic community of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem and gave it its sovereign and independent status. With this bull the pope recognised that the Order had the absolute right to ensure the continuation of its work by electing, in due time, a successor to its founder the Blessed Gerard.
The culminating moment at the end of the solemn Mass in St.Peter’s Basilica, celebrated by the Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertonefor the 900th anniversary since the granting of the Bull by Pope Paschal II (15 February 2013), was the address by Pope Benedict XVI to the packed congregation.
The birth of the Order of St. John dates back to around 1048. Merchants from the ancient Marine Republic of Amalfi obtained from the Caliph of Egypt the authorisation to build a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem, to care for pilgrims of any religious faith or race.
The Order of St. John of Jerusalem – the monastic community which ran the hospital – became independent under the guidance of its founder, Blessed Gérard. Pope Paschal II approved the foundation of the Hospital with the Bull of 15th February 1113, and placed it under the aegis of the Church, granting it the right to freely elect its superiors without interference from other lay or religious authorities. By virtue of the Papal Bull, the Hospital became a lay-religious order. All the knights were religious, bound by the three monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The constitution of the Kingdom of Jerusalem obliged the Order to take on the military defence of the sick and the pilgrims, as well as guarding its medical centres and main roads. The Order thus added the task of defending the faith to that of its hospitaller mission. As time went on, the Order adopted the white eight-pointed cross that is still its symbol today.
Since its foundation 960 years ago, many names have been used to identify the Order and its members. This can be explained by its nine centuries of eventful life and in particular because the Knights have often been forced to move from countries where they once played a leading role. The official name of the Order of Malta is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. Abbreviations of the name – Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Sovereign Order of Malta, or Order of Malta – are often used for legal, diplomatic or communication purposes.
The knights were initially called the Knights Hospitaller (or Hospitallers) to describe their mission. But they were also called the Knights of St John because of the Order’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist, and also of Jerusalem because of their presence in the Holy Land. Also used in the past was the term The Religion to emphasise the characteristic of religious confraternity. After conquering the island of Rhodes in 1310, they became the Knights of Rhodes. In 1530, the Emperor Charles V ceded the island of Malta to the Knights. Since then the Order’s members are commonly referred to as the Knights of Malta.