The Maltese Cross

order-of-st-john-medal

The Maltese Cross was officially adopted by the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St.John in the year 1126.

It consists of eight points, which denote the eight obligations of the knights:

  • To live in truth.
  • Have faith.
  • Repent one’s sins.
  • Proof of humility.
  • Love justice.
  • Be merciful.
  • Sincere and whole-hearted.
  • Endure persecution.

Some years later, the eight points of the cross, came to represent national groupings, of the noblemen who were admitted into the brotherhood.

  • Auvergne
  • Provence
  • France
  • Aragon
  • Castille and Portugal
  • Italy
  • Baviere (Germany)
  • England, Scotland and Ireland

The current symbol of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is the Maltese Cross.

The Knights of Malta

Knights Hospitaller

An ancient hospice for Christian pilgrims, was located in Jerusalem, and had been in existence well before the arrival of these Crusaders.  The Hospice was founded by Abbot Probus around 600AD.  It underwent restoration in 1010 by the Emperor of Charmagne, only to be destroyed by Caliph El-Hamin, and in 1023 restored by the citizens of Amalfi.

In 1048, the Order of St.John was born by Amalfian merchants and its founder Gerard from Martigues in Provence, who also went by the name; Blessed Gerard, the then Benedictine Abbot of St.Maria Latina.  First came the construction of a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem, offering care to pilgrims of any faith.

The Hospice had been dedicated to St.John the Almoner.

What would follow over the coming years would be the creation of a chivalric order, which would evolve into a military machine.

A Papal Bull was issued on the 15th February 1113, by Pope Paschal II, approving the hospital’s foundation, and placing it under the protection of the church.

As such, the Order was ruled by a Grand Master, who was answerable only to the Pope.  Knights were chosen from aristocratic families of England, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

The popularity and praise Gerard received from 1st Crusade warriors, led to his separation from the Benedictine Order, and the foundation of the Order of Hospitaller’s, who adopted the Augustinian rule.

Their habit: A long black monastic cloak, with slits on each side for arms, with an eight pointed white cross on the breast, which included the arms of the Republic of Amalfi.

St.John the Baptist became the new patron saint of the order, replacing St.John of Almoner.  The Order of Hospitaller undertook three solemn vows: Chastity, Obedience and Poverty, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before their patriarch; Dragobert.

As their fame grew across the land, they received many donations, which allowed the Order to purchase properties in the Holy Land and across Europe.

In 1099, the First Crusading armies, had taken three years, marching across Europe, traversed the sun-scorched waterless plateau of Asia Minor.  Thousands of their comrades had perished on the journey, from its hardships, or slain by Turkish warriors.

As they came upon the Holy City of Jerusalem, they fell to their knees in the sand, and wept.

On Friday, the 15th July 1099, at 3.00pm they stormed the Holy City of Jerusalem in their thousands, on the very day and hour their saviour had died.  The first knight to enter was Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, who humbled himself in prayer, at the tomb of his saviour.  Unlike others, he was devoid of earthly ambitions, and fought for the love of Christ, a true warrior of God.

Godfrey of Bouillon

Godfrey of Bouillon

Eight days after the capture of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon was elected as its first Christian King.  He refused to wear a crown or receive the title of King.  This humble warrior, in the city where his saviour had died, accepted he be its defender and ruler.  Knowing his life was short, created a Christian kingdom.

In the year 1100, Godfrey took his army to Caesarea of Philippi, an enemy held town on the Mediterranean coast.  The Muslim leader went out to meet the mighty Godfrey, King and ruler of Jerusalem, on the pretext of making peace.

Godfrey accepted and ate the dishes presented to him, and his military commanders in good faith.  What was thought to be a gift of peace, was far from the truth, as Godfrey’s life was taken from him, by a deadly fever, possibly brought on by eating poisoned food.  He was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Gerard from Martigues in Provence, known as Blessed Gerald died in 1120, secure in the fact, that the Order of the Hospital of St.John of Jerusalem had been created.

By 1126, the Order had begun its military defence of pilgrims in the Holy Land.

Raymond du Puy  from Provence became the elected successor of Gerard of Martigues, and took the title of Master.

Raymond du Puy laid down the foundation for an order of chivalry, with the introduction of the Knights Hospitaller, to run alongside one of prayer and caring for others.  He laid down rules to be observed during military engagements; Swords must not be drawn, unless the standard of the cross was displayed, either in defence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem or in siege against a pagan city.  The military body had been founded in 1123, in response to Egypt’s invasion of Palestine.

Events taking place in the Holy Land would change the future of the Hospitaller’s.  For it was on the 4th July 1187, Saladin defeated Christian forces and the Kingdom of Jerusalem fell. The Hospitaller’s were forced to relinquish their headquarters in Jerusalem for Tripoli on the east coast of Palestine, where they stayed until 1197, then moving to Acre.

The Knights Hospitaller’s, felt robbed of their role as defenders of the Holy Land in 1291, when Acre fell to the Mamluks, and they had been driven out of the Holy Land and sought refuge in Cyprus.  It was here they changed their method of waging war, and became a force to be reckoned with, in naval power.

In 1309, the Hospitaller’s conquered the island of Rhodes, and changed their name; Order of the Knights of Rhodes, which they ran as an independent state, exercising their right of sovereignty.

In the year 1343, the Order conquered Smyrna, and took part in battle in Egypt and Syria.  They supported Armenians in their defence against Muslim forces.

When the Knights Templar were disbanded, their goods, their wealth was transferred to the Order of St.John of Jerusalem, under the order of the Pope, which greatly increased the wealth of the Order.

In 1522, a six-month siege by Suleyman the Magnificent, a Turkish warrior, led to their defeat and on the 1st January 1523, they left Rhodes.

In 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V gave them the island of Malta, and duly went by the name of; Sovereign and Military Order of the Knights of Malta.  In 1565, it resisted a four-month siege by the Ottoman fleet.  A Spanish task force came to the assistance of the Grand Master; Jean Parisot de la Valette in his defence of Malta.

In 1571, the Turkish navy was destroyed at the “Battle of Lepanto” by the combined fleets of the Knights of Malta, European forces led by Don Juan of Austria, half brother to King Philip II of Spain.

A new capital of Malta was built, in recognition for his achievements in the defence against the Turks of 1565, they named it after their Grand Master; Valetta.

As the centuries passed by, these knights, gave up their military lifestyle, returning to their roots, by offering medical care, attracting patients from near and far.

The French Revolution of 1789, abolished the Order in France and confiscated its properties.  Malta rejected the French Revolution, offering shelter to nobles fleeing France and supporting countries at war with them; England, Spain and Russia.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

In 1798 they lost Malta to Napoleon Bonaparte, but regained it in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens.

In 1814, the Treaty of Paris gave Malta to Britain, and the Hospitaller’s left, moving their headquarters to Sicily where they remained until 1826.  From there they moved to Ferrara, and in 1834 finally settled in Rome.

From 1834 to 1961 they were known as the Knights Hospitaller of St.John of Jerusalem, and in 1961 to the present time are formally known as the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St.John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, and a closed fraternity of the Roman Catholic Church.

The order no longer governs any territory, yet it is recognised as a sovereign nation by the Vatican, the only authentic Order of Malta by the Pope, and as such does issue its own passports.

In 1966, Pope Paul VI reformed the statues of the Order of Malta, abolishing its militant character, and vowing it would serve the poor and sick.

In times when the Pope’s life is threatened, the Swiss guards that guard the Vatican are dismissed, and the Knights of Malta, become guardians of the Pope.

Wikipedia Images

Holy Land Pilgrimage

Holy Land

A Pilgrimage of the mind
as we set forth on her land,
she receives us, as travellers
upon this forgotten land.

We feel the sands of time
press down, under our feet,
as we seek out ruined temples
to mingle with our mind.

Hundreds of years have passed
many a knight sought fame,
as they came in their thousand’s
the sands ran red; with their blood.

Crusading Pilgrims

pilgrims

Pilgrims

Jerusalem; God’s holy city
where Jesus of Nazareth
was crucified upon the cross.

Pilgrims undertook pilgrimages
across dangerous lands,
to pay tribute, to their saviour.

Thousands ventured forth
thousands, died on route
buried, in the Holy Land.

Will anyone remember the fallen
lost in the sands of the east,
lost… but never forgotten.

Wikipedia Image

A Pope’s Plea

Pope Urban II

Pope Urban II

Pope Uban made a plea
calling upon Europe’s knights,
arm yourself, set Jerusalem free
as thousand’s answered, the call to arms.

Thousands came out to fight
these warriors for god,
knowing, if they fall in battle
their sins will be forgiven.

Europe’s forces, God’s warriors
took on the might of the east,
these warriors of the desserts
were caught off guard…

First crusade, saw Christian victories
but these were short lived,
as city by city were lost
crusade’s over; Europe’s knights retreated.

We will always remember
a Pope’s call to arms,
thousand’s of Europe’s warriors
lie, in the sands of the Holy Land.

Wikipedia Image

Crusader: Godfrey de Bouillon

godfrey-of-bouillon

Godfrey de Bouillon

Godfrey de Bouillon, born in 1060 to parents Eustace II, Count of Boulogne and Ida, daughter of Godfrey III, Duke of Lower Lorraine at Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Godfrey de Bouillon, was one of the first European nobles, to answer the call, and arm thyself, departing on the First Crusade in August of 1096, to the Holy Land, with a force of 10,000 knights and 30,000 foot soldiers.

Godfrey de Bouillon along with Tancred de Hauntville achieved victory at the Siege of Antioch (October 1097-June1098).

On the morning of the 15th July, Godfrey and Tancred, stood side by side; they being among the first Christian warriors, to mount the ramparts, leading to the capture of Jerusalem.

On the 22nd July 1099, Godfrey de Bouillon was elected to the post of; King of Jerusalem.  He declared to the people of Jerusalem, that he would never wear the gold crown, in a city where his lord and master, wore a crown of thorns.

On the 12th August 1099, Godfrey took on the mighty Muslim army at Ascalon, and were victorious.

On the 18th July 1100, Godfrey de Bouillon died.

Dagobert of Pisa, head of the church in Jerusalem, claimed he should be the new King.

Baldwin of Edessa, Godfrey’s brother arrived in Jerusalem with a force of hardened warriors to claim the throne by right of heritage, and was crowned King of Jerusalem on the 25th December 1100.

Wikipedia Image

Second Crusade: St. Bernard of Clairvaux

saint-bernard-of-clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Bernard was born in 1090, to parents Tescelin de Fontaine, Lord of Fontaine-les-Dijon and Alethe de Montbard of high French nobility in the Burgundy region.

Aged nine, Bernard attended Chatillon-sur-Seine school.  In 1109 at the age of nineteen his mother died.

The young Bernard, felt he had been called by God in 1112, aged just twenty-two, to enter the order of Cistercian Monks of Citeaux.  Bernard’s testimony was so compelling, some thirty friends and brothers felt compelled to follow him into monastic life in 1113.

The Abbey of Citeaux, founded by St. Robert of Molesmes was dedicated to the restoring of Benedictine Rule in its most primitive form.  A life devoted to prayer and poverty.

After three years as a monk, St. Bernard and twelve monks were sent to Vallee d’Absinthe in the Diocese of Langres; where he founded the Abbey of Clairvaux.  In 1116, he was named Abbot of Clairvaux.  In just a few years, disciples and monks were flocking to St. Bernard, wishing to follow the renowned Abbot; St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

In 1128, St. Bernard was called upon by Pope Honorius II to attend the Council of Troyes, to assist in the settling of conflicts within the French church.  He offended Cardinals by his suggestions, who denounced him, as nothing more than a meddling monk, yet his words struck a chord with Cardinal Harmeric and the Papal Court, which led to a strong bond between St. Bernard and the Pope.

St. Bernard this man of God was becoming a renowned churchman in Christendom, as he assisted in correcting abuses within the faith.  Defending church rights against the monarchy who sought to control its resources, and choose their own bishops.

In 1143, St. Bernard must have been a proud man, to see one of his pupils and fellow Cistercian Monk; Bernard of Pisa elected by his peers as Pope, taking the name; “Pope Eugenius III.”

Within a few years, news came from the Holy Land that shocked the Christian world.  The crusader state of Edessa had fallen to Turkish forces, with Antioch and Jerusalem highly likely to fall into Islam control once again.

St.Bernard will be remembered for calling for the founding of the Knights Templar, and he was responsible for the monastic rules of life they would follow.

St. Bernard was put in charge of rallying support for a new crusade, asking knights to arm themselves and wear the cross, showing they be God’s warriors.  He even cut off pieces of his own habit, and fashioned crosses for many warriors.  It is said that King Louis, Queen Eleanor of France and the Holy Roman Emperor; Frederick Barbarossa accepted these cloth crosses.

The Second Crusade was a failure, and he attributed the defeat, believing the crusaders no longer believed in securing the Holy Land.  He believed it be the sinfulness of the crusaders that led to its failure.

On the 21st August 1153, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, aged 63 died at Clairvaux in France.

His Legacy:

At his death, some 343 Cistercian monasteries had been established by him and fellow monks of his order.

In 1174 was canonized by Pope Alexander III.

In 1830, was named doctor of the church by Pope Pius VIII.

Image: Wikipedia