KNIGHTS OF MALTA (Past & Present: Wiki def)

The Knights of Malta 101

Although you’ll usually hear this organization called the “Knights of Malta” in conspiracy circles, their full name is a mouthful: The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. And, unlike some of the other groups you hear about in conspiracy theories, the Sovereign Order of Malta is real. This organization provides humanitarian assistance in 120 countries. It also has diplomatic relations with 104 countries, despite not being a state itself.

You can imagine how excited Matt and I were to cover this in our podcast. We weren’t able to delve into the group’s history as fully as we wanted to, so we’re summing it up here on the blog. For the sake of brevity (and my typing fingers) we’ll just call this organization the Order.

So what exactly is the Order, and how did it survive for more than 900 years?

It’s a long story, but here are the basics: The Order is one of the most ancient Catholic religious orders in the world. Its pedigree dates back to around 1048 or 1050, when the Caliph of Egypt gave a group of merchants from Amalfi permission to build a combination church, hospital and convent in Jerusalem, with the understanding that the hospital would admit pilgrims of all religions and races. In 1113, Pope Paschall II issued a bull placing the Order under the authority of the Holy See, and also giving the right to elect its leaders without interference from other authorities, whether secular or religious. Since the Crusades were (to say the least) a bloody, violent time, the Order eventually acquired a military bent as it defended patients, pilgrims and conquered territory from Muslim forces.

These two abilities — the independence from other nations and the right to use military force — provide the basis for the Order’s peculiar standing in the international community.

It’s no secret that the Order had some ups and downs over the course of its centuries-old existence. In 1291, prompted by the fall of the last Christian compound in the area, the Order struck out for the island of Cyprus. From there the Order relocated to Rhodes, where it built one of the most powerful naval forces in the Mediterranean. The Order called Rhodes home until 1523, and during this time it issued its own currency and cultivated diplomatic relationships with other countries. When Sultan Suleiman (the Magnificent) held the Order under siege for months, the knights were eventually forced to surrender the island.

For seven years the Order was a sovereign entity with no territory of its own. Fortunately, Emperor Charles V gifted the island of Malta to the Order in 1530. This lasted until 1798, when Napoleon took over the island. By this point the Order had a long-standing rule forbidding its forces from raising arms against other Christians. As a result, they left Malta, traveling through Messina, Catania and Ferrera before eventually settling in Rome.

The Order is still based in Rome today, and it still conducts extensive humanitarian work across the planet. If you’d like to learn more about the Order’s current humanitarian projects, you can check them out here. Fascinating stuff, sure — but what about those conspiracy theories I mentioned earlier?

Don’t think I’ve forgotten about them — just check out our episode to learn why some people think the Order is more than a global group of do-gooders.

KNIGHTS OF MALTA & Conspiracy Theories


Roman Catholic military order. For other uses, see Order of Saint John (disambiguation) and Knights of Malta (disambiguation).

Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta

Sovrano Militare Ordine Ospedaliero di San Giovanni di Gerusalemme di Rodi e di Malta  (Italian)

Supremus Ordo Militaris Hospitalis Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodius et Melitensis  (Latin)

Flag of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

Coat of arms of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

Flag Coat of arms

Motto: “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum” (Latin)

“Defence of the faith and assistance to the poor”

Anthem: Ave Crux Alba  (Latin)

Hail, thou White Cross

Capital Palazzo Malta
Via dei Condotti 68
Rome, Italy

Official languages Italian [1]

• Prince

Grand Master

sede vacante
Lieutenant ad InterimLudwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein

• Grand Commandera

Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein

• Grand Chancellor

Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager

• Grand Hospitaller

Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel
Sovereign subject of international law

• Establishment of the Knights Hospitaller,

Kingdom of Jerusalem

Ca 1099 by Blessed Gerard

• Papal recognition

of sovereignty

1113 by Pope Paschal II

• Cyprus


• Rhodes


• Malta


• Exile to Rome


• Estimate

3 citizens[2]
13,000 members
80,000 volunteers[3][4]
Currency Maltese scudob


  1. “Lieutenant ad interim“.
  2. Euro for postage stamps.

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (Latin: Supremus Ordo Militaris Hospitalis Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodius et Melitensis), also known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) or Order of Malta, is a Roman Catholic lay religious order traditionally of militarychivalrousand noble nature.[5] It was founded as the Knights Hospitaller circa 1099 inJerusalemKingdom of Jerusalem, by the Blessed Gerard, making it the world’s oldest surviving chivalric order.[6]Headquartered in Palazzo Malta in Rome, widely considered a sovereign subject of international law,[7] its mission is summed up in its motto:Tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum, “Defence of the (Catholic) faith and assistance to the poor”.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is the present-day continuation of the medieval Knights Hospitaller, now based in Rome,[8] with origins in the Fraternitas Hospitalaria hospital founded circa 1048 by merchants from the Duchy of Amalfiin the Muristan district of Jerusalem,Fatimid Caliphate, to provide medical care for pilgrims to the Holy Land. Following the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade and the loss of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to theMamluk Sultanate, it became a military order to protect Christians againstIslamic persecution and was recognised as sovereign in 1113 by Pope Paschal II. It operated from Cyprus (1291–1310),Rhodes (1310–1523), Malta (1530–1798), over which it was sovereign until the French occupation, and fromPalazzo Malta in Rome from 1834 until the present, subsequently known under its current name. The order venerates as its patroness Mary, mother of Jesus, under the title “Our Lady of Mount Philermos”.

The Order retains sovereignty underinternational law, including United Nations permanent observer status,[9]issuing its own passports, currency and postage stamps with the Maltese crossinsignia. The order’s military corps, threebrigades, are stationed throughout Italy, liaisoned with the Italian Armed Forces.

The Order, with 13,500 Knights, Dames and auxiliary members, employs about 25,000 doctors, nurses, auxiliaries andparamedics assisted by 80,000 volunteers in more than 120 countries,[3]assisting children, homeless, handicapped, refugeed, elders,terminally ill and lepers around the world without distinction of ethnicity or religion.[3] 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.

Name and insignia


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