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900 Years of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

Jonathan Riley Smith reports as Malta celebrates the anniversary of its Sovereign Military Order

Portrait of a Knight of Malta
Portrait of a Knight of Malta

The Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, called of Rhodes, called of Malta (commonly known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta),  celebrated its nonacentenary in 1999. It is one of the most interesting survivals of the age of the Crusades and the most creative period in the formation of orders of the Church. Associated with it, and mutually recognised by a common declaration of 1987, are four non-Catholic orders of St John: the Johanniterorden in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands and the Most Venerable Order of St John in Britain and the Commonwealth, which runs St John Ambulance. These are not orders of the Church but Christian lay confraternities and orders of chivalry claiming a share in the traditions of St John of Jerusalem and legitimised by the recognition of the federal parliament of Germany and the crowns of Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom respectively. The five orders constitute a major international force for good, with approaching half a million volunteers at work throughout the world.

As with any true religious order, the nucleus of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is provided by fully professed brothers. Although they are relatively few – about 40 – they have the support of some 10,000 lay men and women, who could be compared to Fransciscan tertiaries and are made knights and dames in various categories by the grand master by virtue of his sovereignty.

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