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Order of the 400 Knights of Malta (1523)

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  • Emmanuel Rousseau
    Grand Commander of the Order of Malta He was born in Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle, France) in 1969. He grew up in Italy, then in Moselle and Jura in France, before moving to Paris, where he completed ...
  • Alessandro de Franciscis
    Grand Hospitaller of Order of Malta Born in Naples on 24 November 1955, he obtained a classical high school diploma, then a Doctor of Medicine and Surgery degree in 1980 and a specialist diploma in...
  • Fabrizio Colonna
    Receiver of the Common Treasure of the Order of Malta Receiver of the Common Treasure, H.E. Fabrizio Colonna, Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion in Obedience Born in Rome in 1961, Fabrizio Colonna ...
  • Riccardo Paternò di Montecupo
    Grand Chancellor of the Order of Malta Born in Naples on 5 October 1945, he graduated in Law at the Naples University Federico II. Riccardo Paternò di Montecupo is a widower and father of three. H...
  • Admiral James D. Watkins, Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Secretary of Energy (1927 - 2012)
    David Watkins (March 7, 1927 – July 26, 2012) was a United States Navy admiral and former Chief of Naval Operations who served as the U.S. Secretary of Energy during the George H. W. Bush administratio...

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), officially the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (Italian: Sovrano Militare Ordine Ospedaliero di San Giovanni di Gerusalemme di Rodi e di Malta; Latin: Supremus Militaris Ordo Hospitalarius Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodiensis et Melitensis) and also known as the Order of Malta, is a Catholic lay religious order, traditionally of military, chivalric and noble nature.

This page is made in tribute to the 400 original knights and 800 mercenaries who in 1522 -1523 fought against a force of 40,000 Turks, led by the army of Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent.[Suleiman the Magnificent]

History of the Order

The Order is the continuation of the medieval Order of Saint John, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, under international law. As a chivalric order, it was founded c. 1099 by the Blessed Gerard in medieval Jerusalem. As a subject of international law, it is an establishment of the 19th century, recognized at the Congress of Verona of 1822, and since 1834 headquartered in Palazzo Malta in Rome. The order is led by an elected Prince and Grand Master. Its motto is Tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum ('defence of the [Catholic] faith and assistance to the poor'). The order venerates the Virgin Mary as its patroness, under the title of Our Lady of Mount Philermos.

The headquarters of the Order of Saint John had been located in Malta from 1530 until 1798. It was technically a vassal of the Kingdom of Sicily, holding Malta in exchange for a nominal fee, but declared independence in 1753. It was expelled from Malta under the French occupation in 1798 and, from 1805 to 1812, much of its possessions in Protestant Europe were confiscated, resulting in the fragmentation of the order into a number of Protestant branches, since 1961 united under the umbrella of the Alliance of the Orders of Saint John of Jerusalem. The Congress of Vienna of 1815 confirmed the loss of Malta, but the Congress of Verona in 1822 guaranteed the continued existence of the Catholic order as a sovereign entity. The seat of the order was moved to Ferrara in 1826 and to Rome in 1834, the interior of Palazzo Malta being considered extraterritorial sovereign territory of the order. The grand priories of Lombardy-Venetia and of Sicily were restored from 1839 to 1841. The office of Grand Master was restored by Pope Leo XIII in 1879, after a vacancy of 75 years, confirming Giovanni Battista Ceschi a Santa Croce as the first Grand Master of the restored Order of Malta. The Holy See was established as a subject of international law in the Lateran Treaty of 1929. In the following decades, the connection between the Holy See and the Order of Malta was seen as so close as to call into question the actual sovereignty of the order as a separate entity. This has prompted constitutional changes on the part of the Order, which were implemented in 1997. Since then, the Order has been widely recognized as a sovereign subject of international law in its own right. It maintains diplomatic relations with 107 states, has permanent observer status at the United Nations, enters into treaties and issues its own passports, coins and postage stamps. Its two headquarters buildings in Rome enjoy extraterritoriality, similar to embassies, and it maintains embassies in other countries. The three principal officers are counted as citizens.

The Order has 13,500 Knights, Dames and auxiliary members. A few dozen of these are professed religious. Until the 1990s, the highest classes of membership, including officers, required proof of noble lineage. More recently, a path was created for Knights and Dames of the lowest class (of whom proof of aristocratic lineage is not required) to be specially elevated to the highest class, making them eligible for office in the Order.

The Order employs about 42,000 doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and paramedics assisted by 80,000 volunteers in more than 120 countries, assisting children, homeless, handicapped, elderly, and terminally ill people, refugees, and lepers around the world without distinction of ethnicity or religion. Through its worldwide relief corps, Malteser International, the order aids victims of natural disasters, epidemics and war. In several countries, including France, Germany and Ireland, local associations of the order are important providers of medical emergency services and training. Its annual budget is on the order of 1.5 billion euros, largely funded by European governments, the United Nations and the European Union, foundations and public donors.


The birth of the order dates back to around 1048, led by Gerard Thom, Blessed Fra' Gerard (1040-1120)
Blessed Fra' Gerard founder of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. Merchants from the ancient Marine Republic of Amalfi obtained from the Caliph of Egypt the authorization 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 that ran the hospital for the pilgrims in the Holy Land – became independent under the guidance of its founder, the religious brother Gerard. Ref: Hugues II, seigneur d'Amboise, Hugues II, seigneur d'Amboise .

With the Papal bull Pie Postulatio Voluntatis dated February 15th, 1113, Pope Paschal II approved the foundation of the Hospital and placed it under the aegis of the Holy See, granting it the right to freely elect its superiors without interference from other secular or religious authorities. By virtue of the Papal Bull, the hospital became an order exempt from the control of the local church. All the Knights were religious, bound by the three monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The constitution of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem during the Crusades obliged the order to take on the military defence of the sick, the pilgrims, and the captured territories. 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. The eight points represent the eight "beatitudes" that Jesus pronounced in his Sermon on the Mount.


When the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land fell after the Siege of Acre in 1291, the order settled first in Cyprus.


In 1310, led by Grand Master Fra' Foulques de Villaret, the knights regrouped on the island of Rhodes. From there, the defense of the Christian world required the organization of a naval force; so the Order built a powerful fleet and sailed the eastern Mediterranean, fighting battles for the sake of Christendom, including Crusades in Syria and Egypt.

In the early 14th century, the institutions of the Order and the knights who came to Rhodes from every corner of Europe were grouped according to the languages they spoke. The first seven such groups, or Langues (Tongues) – from Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon (Navarre), England (with Scotland and Ireland), and Germany – became eight in 1492, when Castille and Portugal were separated from the Langue of Aragon. Each Langue included Priories or Grand Priories, Bailiwicks, and Commanderies.

The Order was governed by its Grand Master, the Prince of Rhodes, and its Council. From its beginning, independence from other nations granted by pontifical charter and the universally recognized right to maintain and deploy armed forces constituted grounds for the international sovereignty of the Order, which minted its own coins and maintained diplomatic relations with other States. The senior positions of the Order were given to representatives of different Langues.

Fra' Philippe de Villiers de L'Isle-Adam (b. 1464 – August 21st, 1534)
was a prominent member of the Knights Hospitaller at Rhodes and later Malta. Having risen to the position of Prior of the Langue of Auvergne, he was elected 44th Grand Master of the Order in 1521.

He commanded the Order during Sultan Suleiman I's long and bloody Siege of Rhodes in 1522, when 400 knights and 800 soldiers resisted an invading force of about 40,000 men for six months, but eventually negotiated the capitulation and the departure of the knights on New Year's Day 1523 to Crete.

At the end of 1522 and through to 1523, after six (6) long months of siege and fierce combat against the fleet and army of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the 400 original Knights and 800 mercenaries were forced to surrender, and left Rhodes with military honors.

Notable Commanders:

  1. Philippe Villiers DE L'ISLE-ADAM, XLIV. (1464-1534), (geni profile goes here)
  2. Jean Parisot de La Valette (1495 -1568) Jean 1er de la Valette-Parisot
  3. Pierre D'AUBUSSON (1423 - 1503) Pierre d'Aubusson
  4. Fabrizio DEL CARRETTO (1455 -1521) Fabrizio del Carretto
  5. Aimery d'Amboise (1503– )
  6. Jacques de Milly (1454–1481).


History of Malta under the Order of Saint John

The Order remained without a territory of its own until 1530, when Grand Master Fra' Philippe de Villiers de l'Isle Adam took possession of the island of Malta, granted to the order by Emperor Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and his mother Queen Joanna of Castile as monarchs of Sicily, with the approval of Pope Clement VII, for which the order had to honor the conditions of the Tribute of the Maltese Falcon.

Malta was ruled by the Order of Saint John as a vassal state of the Kingdom of Sicily from 1530 to 1798. The islands of Malta and Gozo, as well as the city of Tripoli in modern Libya, were granted to the Order by Spanish Emperor Charles V in 1530, following the loss of Rhodes. The Ottoman Empire managed to capture Tripoli from the Order in 1551, following the 1565 siege, the Order decided to settle permanently in Malta, and began to construct a new capital city, Valletta. For the next two centuries, Malta went through a Golden Age, characterized by a flourishing of the arts, architecture, and an overall improvement in Maltese society. In the mid-17th century, the Order was the de jure proprietor over some islands in the Caribbean, the Order began to decline in the 1770s, and was severely weakened by the French Revolution in 1792. In 1798, French forces under Napoleon invaded Malta and expelled the Order, the Maltese eventually rebelled against the French, and the islands became a British protectorate in 1800. Malta was to be returned to the Order by the Treaty of Amiens in 1802, but the British remained in control, the Order of Saint John was expelled from its base in Rhodes during the Ottoman siege of 1522. The Order settled in the town of Birgu and made it their capital, the ancient fortress known as Castrum Maris was rebuilt as Fort Saint Angelo, the towns defences were strengthened, and many new buildings were constructed. The Order soon began to mint its own coins as it settled in Malta, the Hospitallers continued their actions against the Muslims and especially the Barbary pirates. Although they had only a few ships they quickly drew the ire of the Ottomans, in July 1551, Ottoman forces attempted to take over Fort Saint Angelo and later Mdina but saw that they were outnumbered and invaded Gozo several days later. They sailed to Tripoli and captured the city in August, following these attacks, the Order tried to repopulate Gozo and strengthen the Grand Harbour fortifications. Several forts including Saint Elmo and Saint Michael were built, sometime between 1551 and 1556, a tornado hit Malta and destroyed at least four of the Orders galleys and killed 600 people. This was the worst natural disaster that occurred on Malta. In 1553, Charles V offered a third possession to the Order, however, the Order refused to take control of the city since the commission that was set up decided that it would be too expensive to maintain. Therefore, the emperor ordered the Viceroy of Sicily, Juan de Vega, De Vega burnt Mehdia, but retaliated against Malta for not accepting the city, and prohibited exportation of wheat to the island. To combat this, Grandmaster Sengle brought the engineer Vincenzo Vogo to Malta to upgrade the mills so the population would not starve, at first the battle went as badly for the Hospitallers as Rhodes had, most of the cities were destroyed and about half the knights killed. On August 18th the position of the besieged was becoming desperate, dwindling daily in numbers, but when his council suggested the abandonment of Birgu and Senglea and withdrawal to Fort St. Angelo, Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette refused. A wrong decision could mean defeat and exposing Sicily and Naples to the Ottomans and he had left his own son with de Valette, so he could hardly be indifferent to the fate of the fortress.

Protestant Reformation

The Reformation which split Western Europe into Protestant and Catholic states affected the knights as well. In several countries, including England, Scotland and Sweden, the order was dissolved. In others, including the Netherlands and Germany, entire bailiwicks or commandeers (administrative divisions of the order) experienced religious conversions; these "Johanniter Orders" survive in Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden and many other countries, including the United States and South Africa. It was established that the order should remain neutral in any war between Christian nations.

Colonies in the Caribbean

Colonies of the order in the Caribbean during the 17th century

Hospitaller colonization of the Americas

From 1651 to 1665, the Order of Saint John ruled four islands in the Caribbean. On May 21st, 1651, it acquired the islands of Saint Barthélemy, Saint Christopher, Saint Croix and Saint Martin. These were purchased from the French Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique which had just been dissolved. In 1665, the four islands were sold to the French West India Company.

French Occupation of Malta

Their Mediterranean stronghold of Malta was captured by the French First Republic under Napoleon in 1798 during his expedition to Egypt, following the French Revolution and the subsequent French Revolutionary Wars. Napoleon demanded from Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim that his ships be allowed to enter the port and to take on water and supplies. The Grand Master replied that only two foreign ships could be allowed to enter the port at a time. Bonaparte, aware that such a procedure would take a very long time and would leave his forces vulnerable to Admiral Nelson, immediately ordered a cannon fusillade against Malta. The French soldiers disembarked in Malta at seven points on the morning of June 11th and attacked. After several hours of fierce fighting, the Maltese in the west were forced to surrender.

Napoleon opened negotiations with the fortress capital of Valletta. Faced with vastly superior French forces and the loss of western Malta, the Grand Master negotiated a surrender to the invasion. Hompesch left Malta for Trieste on June 18th. He resigned as Grand Master on July 6th 1799.

The knights were dispersed, though the Order continued to exist in a diminished form and negotiated with European governments for a return to power. The Russian Emperor, Paul I, gave the largest number of knights shelter in Saint Petersburg, an action which gave rise to the Russian tradition of the Knights Hospitaller and the Order's recognition among the Russian Imperial Orders. The refugee knights in Saint Petersburg proceeded to elect Tsar Paul as their Grand Master – a rival to Grand Master von Hompesch until the latter's abdication left Paul as the sole Grand Master. Grand Master Paul I created, in addition to the Roman Catholic Grand Priory, a "Russian Grand Priory" of no fewer than 118 Commanderies, dwarfing the rest of the Order and open to all Christians. Paul's election as Grand Master was, however, never ratified under Roman Catholic canon law, and he was the de facto rather than de jure Grand Master of the Order.

By the early 19th century, the Order had been severely weakened by the loss of its priories throughout Europe. Only 10% of the order's income came from traditional sources in Europe, with the remaining 90% being generated by the Russian Grand Priory until 1810. This was partly reflected in the government of the Order being under Lieutenants, rather than Grand Masters, in the period 1805 to 1879, when Pope Leo XIII restored a Grand Master to the Order. This signaled the renewal of the Order's fortunes as a humanitarian and religious organization.

On September 19th, 1806, the Swedish government offered the sovereignty of the island of Gotland to the Order. The offer was rejected since it would have meant the Order renouncing their claim to Malta.


The French forces occupying Malta expelled the knights from their country.

The Treaty of Amiens (1802) obliged the United Kingdom to evacuate Malta which was to be restored to a recreated Order of St. John, whose sovereignty was to be guaranteed by all of the major European powers, to be determined at the final peace. However, this was not to be because objections to the treaty quickly grew in the UK.

Bonaparte's rejection of a British offer involving a ten-year lease of Malta prompted the reactivation of the British blockade of the French coast; Britain declared war on France on Maym18th.

The 1802 treaty was never implemented. The UK gave its official reasons for resuming hostilities as France's imperialist policies in the West Indies, Italy, and Switzerland.


After having temporarily resided in Messina, Catania, and Ferrara, in 1834 the precursor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta settled definitively in Rome, where it owns, with extraterritorial status, the Magistral Palace in Via Condotti 68 and the Magistral Villa on the Aventine Hill.

The original hospitaller mission became the main activity of the Order, growing ever stronger during the last century, most especially because of the contribution of the activities carried out by the Grand Priories and National Associations in so many countries around the world. Large-scale hospitaller and charitable activities were carried out during World Wars I and II under Grand Master Fra' Ludovico Chigi Albani della Rovere (1931–1951). Under the Grand Masters Fra' Angelo de Mojana di Cologna (1962–88) and Fra' Andrew Bertie (1988–2008), the projects expanded.

Relations with the Republic of Malta

Two bilateral treaties have been concluded with the Republic of Malta. The first treaty is dated June 21st, 1991 and is now no longer in force. The second treaty was signed on December 5th,1998 and ratified on November 1st, 2001.

This agreement grants the Order the use with limited extraterritoriality of the upper portion of Fort St. Angelo in the city of Birgu. Its stated purpose is "to give the Order the opportunity to be better enabled to carry out its humanitarian activities as Knights Hospitallers from Saint Angelo, as well as to better define the legal status of Saint Angelo subject to the sovereignty of Malta over it"

The agreement has a duration of 99 years, but the document allows the Maltese Government to terminate it at any time after 50 years. Under the terms of the agreement, the flag of Malta is to be flown together with the flag of the Order in a prominent position over Saint Angelo. No asylum may be granted by the Order and generally the Maltese courts have full jurisdiction and Maltese law shall apply. The second bilateral treaty mentions a number of immunities and privileges, none of which appeared in the earlier treaty.


In February 2013, the order celebrated the 900th anniversary of its papal recognition with a general audience with Pope Benedict XVI and a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in Saint Peter's Basilica.

The Order experienced a leadership crisis beginning in December 2016, when Albrecht von Boeselager protested his removal as Grand Chancellor by Grand Master Matthew Festing. After considerable publicity and competing accounts given by several parties, in January 2017 Pope Francis ordered von Boeselager reinstated and required Festing's resignation. Francis also named Archbishop Giovanni Becciu as his personal representative to the Order–sidelining the Order's Cardinal Patron Raymond Burke–until the election of a new Grand Master. In May 2017, the Order named Mauro Bertero Gutiérrez, a Bolivian member of the Government Council, to lead its constitutional reform process. And in May 2018 when a new Grand Master was elected, Francis extended Becciu's mandate indefinitely. In June 2017, in a departure from tradition, the leadership of the Order wore informal attire rather than formal wear full dress uniforms to their annual papal audience.

List of Princes and Grand Masters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

Fra' Giacomo dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, 80th and current Prince and Grand Master

The list of the members of the order can be found at this link: [] The Orders themselves, types and ranks, at this other link: [,_decorations,_and_medals_of_th...]

The proceedings of the Order are governed by its Constitutional Charter and the Order's Code. It is divided internationally into six territorial Grand Priories, six Sub-Priories and 47 national associations.

The six (6) Grand Priories are:

  1. Grand Priory of Rome
  2. Grand Priory of Lombardy and Venice
  3. Grand Priory of Naples and Sicily
  4. Grand Priory of Bohemia
  5. Grand Priory of Austria
  6. Grand Priory of England

The supreme head of the Order is the Prince and Grand Master, who is elected for life by the Council Complete of State, holds the precedence of a cardinal of the Church since 1630 and received the rank of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1607. Fra' Giacomo dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto was elected 80th Grand Master on May 2nd 2018, a year after Fra' Matthew Festing resigned as Grand Master at the insistence of Pope Francis.

Electors in the Council Complete of State include the members of the Sovereign Council, other office-holders and representatives of the members of the Order. The Grand Master is aided by the Sovereign Council (the government of the Order), which is elected by the Chapter General, the legislative body of the Order.

The Chapter General meets every five years; at each meeting, all seats of the Sovereign Council are up for election. The Sovereign Council includes six members and four (4) High Officers: the Grand Commander, the Grand Chancellor, the Grand Hospitaller and the Receiver of the Common Treasure.

The Grand Commander is the chief religious officer of the Order and serves as Lieutenant "ad interim" during a vacancy in the office of Grand Master. The Grand Chancellor, whose office includes those of the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the head of the executive branch; he is responsible for the Diplomatic Missions of the Order and relations with the national Associations. The Grand Hospitaller's responsibilities include the offices of Minister for Humanitarian Action and Minister for International Cooperation; he coordinates the Order's humanitarian and charitable activities. Finally, the Receiver of the Common Treasure is the Minister of Finance and Budget; he directs the administration of the finances and property of the Order.

Patrons of the Order since 1961

Cardinal Raymond Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta since 2014 The patron, who is either a cardinal when appointed by the pope or soon raised to that rank,promotes the spiritual interests of the Order and its members, and its relations with the Holy See.

Paolo Giobbe (August 8th,1961 – July 3rd 1969) Giacomo Violardo (July 3rd, 1969 – March 17th, 1978) Paul-Pierre Philippe, O.P. (November 10th, 1978 – April 9th,1984) Sebastiano Baggio (May 26th,1984 – March 21st,1993) Pio Laghi (May 8th, 1993 – January 11th, 2009) Paolo Sardi (June 6th, 2009 – November 8th,2014) Raymond Burke (November 8th, 2014 – present)

Prelate of the Order

The Pope appoints the prelate of the Order to supervise the clergy of the Order, choosing from among three candidates proposed by the Grand Master. On July 4th, 2015 Pope Francis named as prelate Bishop Jean Laffitte, who had held various offices in the Roman Curia for more than a decade. Laffitte succeeded Archbishop Angelo Acerbi, who had held the office since 2001. Laffitte's appointment followed the traditional meeting between the Pope and the Grand Master, and an audience with the Grand Chancellor and others as well, held on June 24th, the feast of St. John the Baptist.

Membership into the Knights' Orders

Membership in the order is divided into three classes each of which is subdivided into several categories:

First Class, containing only one category: Knights of Justice or Professed Knights, and the Professed Conventual Chaplains, who take religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and form what amounts to a religious order. Until the 1990s membership in this class was restricted to members of families with noble lineages.[citation needed] There are also three surviving enclosed monasteries of nuns of the Order, two in Spain that date from the 11/12th centuries and one in Malta, whose members hold the same rank in the Order as chaplains. Second Class: Knight and Dames in Obedience, similarly restricted until recently, these knights and dames make a promise, rather than a vow, of obedience. This class is subdivided into three categories, namely that of Knight and Dames of Honour and Devotion in Obedience, Knight and Dames of Grace and Devotion in Obedience, and Knight and Dames of Magistral Grace in Obedience. Third Class, which is subdivided into six categories: Knights and Dames of Honour and Devotion, Conventual Chaplains ad honorem, Knights and Dames of Grace and Devotion, Magistral Chaplains, Knights and Dames of Magistral Grace, and Donats (male and female) of Devotion. All categories of this class are made up of members who take no vows and who had to show a decreasingly extensive history of nobility. Knights of Magistral Grace need not prove any noble lineage and are the most common class of knights in the United States.

Within each class and category of knights are ranks ranging from bailiff grand cross (the highest) through knight grand cross, and knight — thus one could be a "knight of grace and devotion," or a "bailiff grand cross of justice." The final rank of donat is offered to some who join the Order in the class of "justice" but who are not knights. Bishops and priests are generally honorary members, or knights, of the Order of Malta. However, there are some priests who are full members of the Order, and this is usually because they were conferred knighthood prior to ordination. The priests of the Order of Malta are ranked as Honorary Canons, as in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre; and they are entitled to wear the black mozetta with purple piping and purple fascia.

Prior to the 1990s, all officers of the Order had to be of noble birth (i.e., armigerous for at least a hundred years), as they were all knights of justice or of obedience. However, Knights of Magistral Grace (i.e., those without noble proofs) now may make the Promise of Obedience and, at the discretion of the Grand Master and Sovereign Council, may enter the novitiate to become professed Knights of Justice.

Worldwide, there are over 13,000 knights and dames, of whom approximately 55 are professed religious. Membership in the Order is by invitation only and solicitations are not entertained.

The Order's finances are audited by a Board of Auditors, which includes a President and four (4) Councillors, all elected by the Chapter General. The Order's judicial powers are exercised by a group of Magistral Courts, whose judges are appointed by the Grand Master and Sovereign Council.

Relationship with Other Mutually-Recognised Orders of Saint John (SMOM)

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta has collaborated with other mutually-recognized Orders of Saint John; for example, the SMOM is a major donor of the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem, which is primarily operated by the Venerable Order of Saint John.

Notable Members of the SMOM:

Fabrizio Carretto (1513–1514); Amaury d'Amboise (1503–1512); Pierre d'Aubusson (1476–1503); Jacques de Milly (1454–1451).

Foreign relations of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, List of Permanent Observers of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to the United Nations, and List of diplomatic missions of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

SMOM has formal diplomatic relations with 108 states and has official relations with another five states and with the European Union. Additionally it has relations with the International Committee of the Red Cross and a number of international organizations, including observer status at the UN and some of the specialized agencies. Its international nature is useful in enabling it to pursue its humanitarian activities without being seen as an operative of any particular nation. Its sovereignty is also expressed in the issuance of passports, licence plates, stamps, and coins.

With its unique history and unusual present circumstances, the exact status of the Order in international law has been the subject of debate. It describes itself as a "sovereign subject of international law." Its two headquarters in Rome – the Palazzo Malta in Via dei Condotti 68, where the Grand Master resides and Government Bodies meet, and the Villa del Priorato di Malta on the Aventine, which hosts the Grand Priory of Rome – Fort St. Angelo on the island of Malta, the Embassy of the Order to Holy See and the Embassy of the Order to Italy have all been granted extraterritoriality by Italy and Malta.

Unlike the Holy See, however, which is sovereign over Vatican City and thus has clear territorial separation of its sovereign area and that of Italy, SMOM has had no territory since the loss of the island of Malta in 1798, other than only those current properties with extraterritoriality listed above. Italy recognizes, in addition to extraterritoriality, the exercise by SMOM of all the prerogatives of sovereignty in its headquarters. Therefore, Italian sovereignty and SMOM sovereignty uniquely coexist without overlapping. The United Nations does not classify it as a "non-member state" or "intergovernmental organization" but as one of the "other entities having received a standing invitation to participate as observers." For instance, while the International Telecommunication Union has granted radio identification prefixes to such quasi-sovereign jurisdictions as the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority, SMOM has never received one. For awards purposes, amateur radio operators consider SMOM to be a separate "entity", but stations transmitting from there use an entirely unofficial callsign, starting with the prefix "1A". Likewise, for internet and telecommunications identification, the SMOM has neither sought nor been granted a top-level domain or international dialling code, whereas the Vatican City uses its own domain (.va), and has been allocated the country code +379.

There are differing opinions as to whether a claim to sovereign status has been recognized. Ian Brownlie, Helmut Steinberger, and Wilhelm Wengler are among experts who say that the claim has not been recognized. Even taking into account the Order's ambassadorial diplomatic status among many nations, a claim to sovereign status is sometimes rejected. The Order maintains diplomatic missions around the world and many of the states reciprocate by accrediting ambassadors to the Order (usually their ambassador to the Holy See).

Wengler—a German professor of international law—addresses this point in his book Völkerrecht (1964), and rejects the notion that recognition of the Order by some states can make it a subject of international law. Conversely, professor Rebecca Wallace—writing more recently in her book International Law (1986)—explains that a sovereign entity does not have to be a country, and that SMOM is an example of this. This position appears to be supported by the number of nations extending diplomatic relations to the Order, which more than doubled from 49 to 100 in the 20-year period to 2008. In 1953, the Holy See decreed that the Order of Malta's quality as a sovereign institution is functional, to ensure the achievement of its purposes in the world, and that as a subject of international law, it enjoys certain powers, but not the entire set of powers of sovereignty "in the full sense of the word." On June 24th, 1961, Pope John XXIII approved the Constitutional Charter, which contains the most solemn reaffirmations of the sovereignty of the Order. Article 1 affirms that "the Order is a legal entity formally approved by the Holy See. It has the quality of a subject of international law." Article 3 states that "the intimate connection existing between the two qualities of a religious order and a sovereign order do not oppose the autonomy of the order in the exercise of its sovereignty and prerogatives inherent to it as a subject of international law in relation to States."

Currency and Postage Stamps

The SMOM coins are appreciated more for their subject matter than for their use as currency; SMOM postage stamps, however, have been gaining acceptance among Universal Postal Union member nations.

The SMOM began issuing euro-denominated postage stamps in 2005, although the scudo remains the official currency of the SMOM. Also in 2005, the Italian post agreed with the SMOM to deliver internationally most classes of mail other than registered, insured, and special-delivery mail; additionally 56 countries recognize SMOM stamps for franking purposes, including those such as Canada and Mongolia that lack diplomatic relations with the Order.

Military Corps

Military Corps of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, SMOM

Military Corps of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, ACISMOM, in parade during Festa della Repubblica in Rome (2007) The Order states that it was the hospitaller role that enabled the Order to survive the end of the crusading era; nonetheless, it retains its military title and traditions.

On March 26th, 1876, the Association of the Italian Knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (Associazione dei cavalieri italiani del sovrano militare ordine di Malta, ACISMOM) reformed the Order's military to a modern military unit of the era. This unit provided medical support to the Italian Army and on April 9th, 1909 the military corps officially became a special auxiliary volunteer corps of the Italian Army under the name Corpo Militare dell'Esercito dell'ACISMOM (Army Military Corps of the ACISMOM), wearing Italian uniforms. Since then the Military Corps have operated with the Italian Army both in wartime and peacetime in medical or paramedical military functions, and in ceremonial functions for the Order, such as standing guard around the coffins of high officers of the Order before and during funeral rites.

I believe that it is a unique case in the world that a unit of the army of one country is supervised by a body of another sovereign country. Just think that whenever italian staff (medical officers mainly) is engaged in a military mission abroad, there is the flag of the Order flying below the Italian flag.

SMOM Savoia-Marchetti

In 1947, after the post-World War II peace treaty forbade Italy to own or operate bomber aircraft and only operate a limited number of transport aircraft, the Italian Air Force opted to transfer some of its Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 aircraft to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, pending the definition of their exact status (the SM.82 were properly long range transport aircraft that could be adapted for bombing missions). These aircraft were operated by Italian Air Force personnel temporarily flying for the Order, carried the Order's roundels on the fuselage and Italian ones on the wings, and were used mainly for standard Italian Air Force training and transport missions but also for some humanitarian tasks proper of the Order of Malta (like the transport of sick pilgrims to the Lourdes sanctuary). In the early '50s, when the strictures of the peace treaty had been much relaxed by the Allied authorities, the aircraft returned under full control of the Italian Air Force. One of the aircraft transferred to the Order of Malta, still with the Order's fuselage roundels, is preserved in the Italian Air Force Museum.


The Military Corps has become known in mainland Europe for its operation of hospital trains, a service which was carried out intensively during both World Wars. The Military Corps still operate a modern 28-car hospital train with 192 hospital beds, serviced by a medical staff of 38 medics and paramedics provided by the Order and a technical staff provided by the Italian Army Railway Engineers Regiment.

The Knights Hospitaller of Malta

Notable Knights Hospitaller of Malta:

  1. Aimery DE BLOU, Seigneur de Blou et de Champigny-sur-Veude (1150-1198) Aimery Ier de Blou, Seigneur de Blou et de Champigny-sur-Veude
  2. William DE HARCOURT, I, Sire d´Harcourt, de Cailleville, de Beauficel et de Boissey (1070-1149) Sir William de Harcourt

In the 11th Century the Knights of Malta, known then as ‘Knights Hospitaller’, established a hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims of any religious faith or race. The work of the hospitallers grew in fame and in 1113 Pope Paschal II officially recognised the monastic community as a lay religious order. The Pope identified the Hospitaller Gerard as the Order’s founder, together with an established group of monks – the ‘Professed’ – who are still at the heart of the Order of Malta today.

Throughout the centuries the number of members coming from all over Europe continued to grow and contributed to the strengthening of the Order during its presence in Rhodes (1310-1522) and in Malta (1530-1798).

While members of the Order of Malta in former times traditionally belonged to the aristocracy, the emphasis today is on a nobility of spirit and conduct. The 13,500 Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta remain true to its inspiring principles, summarized in the motto “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum” – nurturing, witnessing and protecting the faith and serving the poor and the sick – which become reality through humanitarian projects and social assistance in 120 countries. Members must demonstrate dedication to these principles and are admitted country-by-country through Priories and National Associations.

The three (3) Classes:

According to the Constitution, the members of the Order of Malta are divided into three Classes. The members are to conduct their lives in an exemplary manner in conformity with the teachings and precepts of the Catholic Church and to devote themselves to the assistance activities of the Order.

Members of the First Class are Knights of Justice, or Professed Knights, and the Professed Conventual Chaplains, who have made vows of “poverty, chastity and obedience aspiring to perfection according to the Gospel”. They are religious according to Canon Law but are not obliged to live in community.

The members of the Second Class, by virtue of the Promise of Obedience, are committed to living according to Christian principles and the inspiring principles of the Order. They are subdivided into three (3) categories:

  1. – Knights and Dames of Honour and Devotion in Obedience,
  2. – Knights and Dames of Grace and Devotion in Obedience,
  3. – Knights and Dames of Magistral Grace in Obedience.

The Third Class consists of lay members who do not profess religious vows or the Promise, but who live according to the Principles of the Church and of the Order. They are divided into six (6) categories:

  1. – Knights and Dames of Honour and Devotion,
  2. – Conventual Chaplains ad honorem,
  3. – Knights and Dames of Grace and Devotion,
  4. – Magistral Chaplains,
  5. – Knights and Dames of Magistral Grace,
  6. – Donats (male and female) of Devotion.

Text: Pedro L. Baldo, MSc, MBA.

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Project Created on March 01st, 2019 by Pedro L. Baldo ARR