Faith Matters | Faith Matters - The Church Program | DW | 01.09.2013
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Faith Matters

Faith Matters

A Bastion of Christianity - The Knights of Malta

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The Mediterranean island of Malta is proud of its long history. With its medieval buildings and impressive fortifications, the capital is like an open-air museum. But when the Knights of St. John hold processions and church services in Valetta, the Middle Ages seem to come alive.

In 1565, the knights successfully fought off a massive Ottoman fleet that was attempting to invade the island. This victory is still remembered as one of the great moments in Malta’s history. On the anniversary of the siege, the whole of Maltese high society attends Holy Mass. The knights still wear the eight-pointed cross that is the Order’s insignia, but they have long discarded their swords. Their aims are now religious and humanitarian - as they were when the Order was founded in 1099.

Originally, the knights ran a hostel for the poor in Jerusalem that was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. That’s why they are still officially called ‘Knights Hospitallers of St. John’. Later, they also took care of the sick. When Muslim forces recaptured Palestine at the end of the thirteenth century, the knights withdrew to the island of Rhodes, and later to Malta. Today the Order has 13,500 members. This report traces their long and colorful history.