The order of St John, knights Malta

The Order of St. John in Malta

  • Jul 17, 2021

...their strong mark can still be seen and felt today.

The Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Order of St John, were an early Catholic military order with a massive influence on the Maltese islands. The Knights are part and parcel of Malta’s history, and their strong mark can still be seen and felt today. 

Interested in learning more about the Order of St John? Keep reading. 

Who Were the Knights of Malta?

The Order of St John, Knights of Malta and Knights Hospitaller all refer to the same organisation – a medieval and early Catholic military order that was headquartered in Jerusalem and flourished in Malta. 

The Knights of Malta’s origins can be traced back to a hospital in Amalfi. At the hospital, the knights were responsible for caring for pilgrims that ended up sick or injured after their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

In 1530, Pope Clement VII reached an agreement with Charles V of Spain to hand over Malta, Gozo and Tripoli as a perpetual fiefdom to the Knights for a fee: a single Maltese falcon. The Knights stayed in Malta for 268 years. 

The Great Siege of Malta

The Great Siege of Malta took place in 1565. The four-month siege saw 500 knights and 6000 soldiers, alongside the Maltese, take on Suleiman the Magnificent and his troop, and by extension, the Ottoman Empire. 

The siege went down in history as the culmination of the Christian alliances-Islamic Ottoman Empire dispute over the Mediterranean. The Knights’ victory was well-celebrated across Europe, so much so that Voltaire wrote: “Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta.”

The Knights’ Main Projects in Malta

After their victory against the Ottomans, the Knights received funding from Europe’s aristocrats to fortify the islands. 

The Knights are known for building the city of Valletta – Malta’s capital city. Valletta’s 16th and 17th-century palaces, forts, gardens and churches are great examples of Baroque architecture at its finest. 

The Knights also built a couple of different hospitals, most notably, Valletta’s Holy Infirmary, one of the best hospitals and medical schools in Europe at the time. 

The Grand Harbour area is dotted with grand fortifications such as the Floriana, Santa Margherita and Cottonera lines. Other forts around the islands include Fort Chambray (Gozo), Fort Manoel (Gzira), Fort Ricasoli (Kalkara) and Fort Saint Angelo (Birgu). 

Malta’s military preparedness was further improved by the construction of watchtowers. These watchtowers served as a place from where sentinels could observe Malta’s coastline and warn their superiors in the case of potential attacks. 

The Maltese Cross

Originally, the eight-pointed cross was the Order’s symbol. However, the Order’s close association with the islands, led to the Cross’ eventual usage as a Maltese symbol. Nowadays, the symbol is used by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Venerable Order of Saint John and Air Malta. It’s also a presidential standard and part of the Maltese civil ensign, the Maltese naval jack and the Maltese Euro.