Grand Master’s Palace
The Grand Master’s Palace in Valetta, Malta has been in existence for almost five hundred years. A tour through the building will bring you through beautiful ballrooms, past magnificent paintings, and through an armory ready for war (a medieval one anyway). However, it is the group that the palace gets its name from that tells the real story. Before it became a building for the Maltese House of Representatives, it was originally the seat of the Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem. A mouthful, I know, but they have earned it.
The Order traces their origin back to the Crusades. They were founded during the twelfth century in Jerusalem when a group of knights came across what was a hospital and shelter for pilgrims in the Holy Land. The hospital was run by a man called Brother Gerard. It was very advanced for its era and as a result had much higher survival rates. The Knights joined Brother Gerard in his charitable works and not long after the Order of St. John was officially recognized as a self-governing organization in a Papal Bull. Over the centuries, the order continued its charitable works helping the sick, poor, and defending Christians in the Holy Land during the subsequent Crusades.
Over time, though, they became rivals of the Knights Templar and this rivalry only increased as the Kingdom of Jerusalem declined. Both orders were highly regarded; they were both endowed by the Pope and held the same rank in Church and State. This afforded them many privileges. With these privileges came power and wealth, and they answered only to the Pope. As time passed, the Kingdom of Jerusalem fell and both orders were forced out. The Knights of St. John ended up in Palestine before being forced onto Cyprus and then Rhodes. At the same time the Knights Templar were forced into Europe where their privilege, power and wealth ultimately came to be seen as a threat. As a result, the King of France began a campaign to wipe them out. By 1312, with the Pope’s official support, the Knights Templar were considered officially suppressed, with many of them having already been burned at the stake as heretics. The Pope ordered that their lands were to be handed over to the Knights of St. John. On a side note, some people believe that the superstition towards Friday the thirteenth dates back to the day that the King of France had the Knights Templar arrested, Friday the thirteenth of October 1307.
By 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, gave the island of Malta to the order on the condition that they send him a single Maltese Falcon each year on All Saints Day. At that time, the gift of a falcon was considered a high honor, and Maltese Falcons were particularly desirable. This tradition is still carried out by the Maltese people to this day, though the falcon now goes to Spain.
In 1798, the order was forced out of Malta by Napoleon. They scattered throughout Europe only to ultimately settle in Rome, where they are still based today. The order is still in existence and since the early 1800’s it has dedicated itself to religious and humanitarian causes.
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I send postcards with my photos on them. You figure out the location from the clues in the message.