By Mario Buhagiar
Peregrinationes, Vol.1 (2000)
Introduction: In 1530 the crusading brotherhood of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John of Jerusalem accepted the offer of the Emperor Charles V to occupy the Maltese Islands and hold them against the Ottomans who were seeking to control the Central Mediterranean. Seven years previously, on January 1st, 1523, the Knights had evacuated their convent on the island fortress of Rhodes, in the Dodecanese, after surrendering on terms to the great sultan, Soleyman the Lawgiver, whose invading army hopelessly outnumbered them. Their tenacity and heroism during the protracted siege earned them the admiration of their great enemy and they were permitted to take with them, in addition to a substantial part of their archives, their personal armour and weapons. They were also allowed to ransom, for jewels and plate, allegedly worth 30,000 ducats, the liturgical furnishings of the conventual church. These consisted of a rich collection of holy relics, icons, church-plate, tapestries, sacred vestments, and miscellaneous objets d’art. Other valuables, including the two holy icons of the Damascus and Eleimonitria Madonnas were successfully smuggled out of the island. The accumulated treasure reflected the special and, in many ways, unique character of the haughtily chivalric Order as well as its wealth and prestige.