In 1023, the Egyptian caliph Ali al-Zaire allowed Italian merchants from Amalfi to restore in Jerusalem an old hospital (from the Latin hospitolis - guest, that is, it is primarily a hotel), five hundred years earlier established by Pope Gregory the Great for Christian pilgrims, visiting the Holy Land. The origin of the name of John the researchers explain in different ways. According to one of the popular versions, their inn was located on the site of the ancient monastery of St. John, from which a century later the name passed, to put it in modern language, to a private security company, as in Israel, stirred by the First Crusade, pilgrims needed not only shelter and medical care. armed guard.
From that time, the Johnites, otherwise called the Hospitallers, along with the Order of the Templars, took an active part in the defense of the newly made Jerusalem kingdom. Knights covered with red cloaks with eight-pointed white crosses (they symbolize eight knightly virtues: faith, mercy, truth, justice, sinlessness, humility, sincerity and patience) could be seen fighting in the plains of Palestine and in the mountains of Lebanon and in the delta Nile, at the walls of Damietta besieged by Christians. Often, in bloody clashes with the Prophet’s soldiers, the Joannites, covering the co-religionists' retreat, almost killed everybody, but their organization was revived each time, replenished again and again by crusaders arriving from Europe. More pious and pious than the main heterogeneous mass of Europeans who moved to conquer the East, members of the order, obeying strict rules approved by the Pope, did not allow themselves atrocities that were usual for that dark time, so when Jerusalem fell in 1187, it was Saladin generously allowed the hospitallers to continue their humanitarian mission in the city.
Trinity Cathedral of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. 19th century engraving
For a short time the order was still held in its possession on the Palestinian coast, and then forced through Cyprus to move to the island of Rhodes, where for two centuries it opposed the now Islamic expansion, consistently repelling the attacks of the Egyptian and Turkish sultans. It was especially difficult to cope with Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople. The third invasion, made in 1522, led by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent Turks, forced the Knights to leave Rhodes after six months of resistance. True, after seven years they received from the Spanish king Charles, who had seated on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire that year, a magnificent gift - the island of Malta. Interestingly, the property was leased, but the fee was purely symbolic: every year a falcon was sent to Malta from Sicily. However, the hospital sector did not have to develop the hotel business in the Mediterranean resort: 1565 already entered the European history in the year as the Year of the Great Siege of Malta. Forty-thousandth Turkish army several times unsuccessfully stormed the fortifications of knights, numerically inferior to the Turks four times. The courage of the defenders and the commanding genius of their Grand Master de la Valletta, whose name is the island capital, was not only defended by Malta, but also Sicily (the viceroy of the local king was not allowed to send reinforcements to the besieged Maltese), and Naples, yes perhaps the whole of Christian Europe from militant Islamism.
The battle of Lepanto 1571, the largest maritime battle of the XVI century, in which the Maltese knights participated on the side of the Holy League, although it did not have a decisive influence on the outcome of the Turkish-Venetian war, but in many respects predetermined the weakening of Turkish power in the Mediterranean and, as a result , gradual razmilitarizatsii order, often called at that time already Maltese. The knights now fought mostly with sea robbers, and at the same time they themselves piracy, often ruining the shores of North Africa.
By the end of the 18th century, the military glory of the Johannites had faded, the heroic spirit became the property of history, so Napoleon had no difficulty on the way to Egypt to capture Malta: the island surrendered to the French without a fight. Again deprived of their homeland, the knights laid all their hopes on the next and rather unexpected patron - the Russian Tsar Paul. But here we are running a little forward ...
Russia's relations with the Order of Malta began under Peter I. In 1698, the boyar Boris Petrovich Sheremetev went to Europe with a diplomatic mission, visited Rome and Venice, and then turned to Malta - the purpose of the embassy was to probe the ground for putting together an anti-Turkish coalition. We met a Russian diplomat on the island with “most delicious dishes and drinks and various candies”. And at parting they presented signs of the order - a star and a cross on a black (“monastic”) ribbon decorated with diamonds.
A new round of Russian-Maltese friendship dates back to the reign of Catherine II. Russian officers were then sent to the island to undergo maritime practice, and some volunteers sent to serve in the Russian fleet, such as, for example, the Count de Litte, who will be mentioned later. In 1770, the order was involved in a lawsuit for the inheritance of the Polish prince of Ostrog, who bequeathed his entire estate to the Maltese in the event of the suppression of his offspring along the male line. With the help of the Empress, the Johannites asserted their rights in Poland and even formed on its territory one of their departments — the great priors. When, as a result of the so-called second division of Poland, the Ostroh lands together with Volyn went to Russia, the orders of the Johnites became directly dependent on Petersburg, which soon played into the hands of the knights.
Having ascended to the Russian throne after the death of his mother, the emperor Paul, with all his unpredictability, was, however, a consistent supporter and benefactor of the Johannites. One of his teachers left curious information for reflection in his diary (the record was made in February of 1765, when the grand duke was in his eleventh year): “I read his highness Vertotov's history (meaning“ The History of Maltese Knights ”in the 14 books of Abbe René Auber de Verto. - M.L.) on the Order of the Maltese Knights. Then he deigned to amuse himself and, having tied the admiral's flag to his cavalry, to present himself as a Maltese cavalier. ” Much like Pavel, his childhood hobby subsequently took a serious form (remember his “fun” with the Order of St. Anne, which he ordered his friends to fasten to the hilt of the swords in such a way that it would not be visible to anyone outside, but later this wearing of the award became official ). Having become emperor, Paul showered the Order with various favors (he signed the Convention on the Establishment of this Order in Russia even before his coronation). The income from the Polish estates of St. John rose more than twice, for which the great priory of the Polish was transformed into a Russian (Russian-Catholic) with ten commanders instead of the previous six. And then the ambassador arrived in St. Petersburg from Malta - Count de Litte, who had served out in Russia before the admiral's rank, who presented Paul with the long-awaited title of protector of the Order and the long-awaited insignia. In addition to Pavel, his elder sons, Alexander and Konstantin Pavlovichi, State Chancellor Prince Alexander Bezborodko, Vice-Chancellor Prince Alexei Kurakin and several other persons, became Maltese knights. On the same day, the protector swore in oath to the commanders of the new Russian priory, this time already Orthodox, which looked, to put it mildly, strange in the overall structure of the Roman Catholic order.
The cross of the Maltese Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Empress Maria Feodorovna
Thus, this order joined the Russian award system, which Paul transformed a little earlier, in April of the same 1797 year. On the day of the coronation, 5 of April, the Russian monarch signed the famous “Establishment for the Russian Orders”: most of the previous state awards turned into different degrees of the uniform Russian Cavalry Order. The Order of St. Andrew became now additionally referred to as the "Order of 1 class", St. Catherine - "2", St. Alexander Nevsky - "3", St. Anne - "4 class". A clear hierarchical order was created within the uniform cavalier order, where, however, there was no place for the most revered awards - “Saint George” and “Saint Vladimir”. So Paul dealt with the maternal legacy he hated: the Georgievsky and Vladimir cavaliers retained their privileges, the delivery of these orders was not made until the change of the ruler.
So, not having become part of the Russian system of awards, the Maltese cross nevertheless occupied a special place in it: it stood in importance after the Order of Saint Anne of the I degree. And soon with the loss of Malta and the expulsion of knights from it (the English who beat the island from the French did not even think of returning it to John), Emperor Paul was elected Grand Master (although the Pope did not confirm the Orthodox autocrat in this rank). Next to his Gatchina Palace, he ordered a special residence to be built to house the Russian Priory Administration. The original castle, built from pressed loam designed by architect Nikolai Lvov, is still one of the pearls of tourist Gatchina.
In the list of Russian gentlemen of the Maltese cross are many famous names. We will briefly dwell only on two, which cannot be circumvented in our history: Alexander Suvorov and Gavriil Derzhavin. In the 1794 year (attention: even before the accession of Paul and the establishment of the Maltese Order in Russia!), During the storming of the Warsaw suburb, our brilliant commander did not regret bile. According to the story, preserved by Denis Davydov, “referring to Count Kinson (at that time, Count Victor Kinson was a Maltese colonel, later, going to the Russian service, he became the commander of the Ingermanland Dragoon regiment and Major General. - M.L.) Suvorov asked him: “For what battle did you wear the order worn by you and what is the name of the order?”. Kinson replied that the order is called the Maltese and only members of noble families are awarded. “What a respectable order! - Suvorov exclaimed. “Let me see it.” Removing Kinson, he showed it to everyone, repeating: "What a respectable order!". Turning then to the other officers present, he began asking them one by one: “What did you receive for this order?” - “For the capture of Ishmael, Ochakov and others,” was their answer. “Your orders are below this,” said Suvorov. “They are given to you for courage, and this honorable order is given for a noble family.” The causticity, however, did not prevent the cunning Alexander Vasilyevich, having received exactly the same eight-pointed cross from the hands of the sovereign, to wear it constantly. A contemporary, describing Suvorov’s stay in Vienna before the Italian campaign, noted on his neck the Maltese cross on a wide black ribbon.
No less sensitive to political winds, Gavriil Romanovich Derzhavin (by the way, a close friend of Lviv, the builder of the Priory castle) noted an ode “To present to the imperial majesty the great magisterial order of St. John of Jerusalem and to victory over the Russian French fleet gained in 1798 ”(under this name this composition, better known as the ode“ To the Order of Malta ”, was published in the third book of the almanac“ Aonides ”in the year of writing).
... Who is the mountain of Jerusalem?
This heir and friend of Christ?
In whom the valor of grace is visible
And who is the co-worker of Petrov?
Isn't that the heart
And feelings of pity, heroism
In the holy soul that combined,
Opened the fatherly hands,
Acceptance of wanderers without a tribute
And the soul of chivalry resurrected?
In artistic terms, this Derzhavin ode, of course, is inferior to the more famous of his creations and now would draw attention to itself, perhaps, except that the too modern sounding phrase “Americans go into battle”, but at one time did not go unnoticed by those to whom : to sensitive Gabriel Romanovich was granted the Maltese Cross with diamonds and, according to the already established good tradition, covered with a box of diamonds.
In the meantime, the Petitioners Petrov arranged in his new Mikhailovsky Palace a separate Maltese Hall from the Great Throne Hall for knightly ceremonies, but he didn’t use it: March 24 (new style) 1801 of the year Paul was strangled by conspirators breaking into his chambers. His son and successor, Alexander, reinstated the “fighting” Russian orders in his rights, and the high-born Maltese cross, like the knightly order itself, gradually deprived of all previous favors. The young king initially did not want to take the title of Grand Master, then he also refused the title of protector, and after the defeat of Napoleon, when the need for Malta finally disappeared, and the Englishmen who had tattered the island were inappropriate, the activities of John in Russia gradually diminished. Former Maltese Ambassador Litta became a member of the Council of State and Ober Chamberlain, was awarded the highest Russian award - the Order of St. Andrew the First Called. A quarter of a century later, in the register of things by Alexander I, kept after his death (or disappearance, as you wish) in the Petersburg arsenal, the “Maltese cross” was marked in the penultimate place, before the three embroidered stars of the “unknown order”.
At present, Johnites are scattered around the world, while the residence of their Grand Master is located at the Holy See - in the Roman Vatican.