The order began in 1048 as a Benedictine infirmary in Jerusalem that cared for pilgrims to the Holy Land. They became known as the Hospitallers after the First Crusade conquered Jerusalem in 1095. Pope Pascal II issued the bull Pie postulatio voluntatis, “a voluntary petition made with devotion” in 1113, which placed the order and its hospital under papal protection and gave them freedom to elect its superiors without local interference.
The Hospitallers continued to operate their hospital during the 12th century but imitated the Templars by becoming Knights. Following the loss of Jerusalem by the Christians, the order moved to the island of Rhodes. Later, Emperor Charles V made the Knights lords of the island of Malta in return for the yearly tribute of one live Maltese falcon. There, they became known as the Knights of Malta. After Napoleon expelled the Knights from Malta in 1798, the order made its home in Rome, where it exists to this day.
Today the order’s13,500 members - Knights and Dames - are engaged in humanitarian and relief work in more than 120 countries around the world.
“The origins of the Order of the Hospital have been the stuff of myth,” said Theresa Vann, the Joseph S. Micallef Curator of HMML’s Malta Study Center. “This exhibit explains what we know today about the history of the Hospitallers, particularly the reasons why Pope Pascal issued the bull in 1113. Pascal issued similar bulls to other religious charities, but none of them have lasted as long as the Hospitallers. It says a great deal about the order’s commitment to its mission and its adaptability to changing times.”
HMML’s Malta Study Center has preserved the complete central archives of the Order of the Hospital, its court records, printed music and unique records of the Roman Inquisition on Malta in microfilm and digital format. The programs and holdings of the Malta Study Center serve national and international researchers, particularly students of the history of Western Europe, the Mediterranean and the island of Malta.
One of the world’s leading cultural preservation institutions, HMML’s mission is to identify, digitally photograph, catalog, archive the contents of endangered manuscripts belonging to threatened communities and to make these unique cultural resources available to users around the world. Since 1965, it has photographically preserved more than 130,000 manuscript books dating from the ancient to early modern eras, totaling some 40,000,000 handwritten pages.
Above: Image of the Papal Bull of Pascall II that recognized the Order.
Media Contact: Theresa Vann
Joseph S. Micallef Curator, Malta Study Center
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library
Saint John’s University
Collegeville, Minn. 56321