The Order of St John is a Roman Catholic religious and military order based in Rome, Italy. The Order grew from the Knights Hospitaller, an organization founded in Jerusalem in 1050 and associated with an Amalfitan hospital to provide care for poor and sick pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, it became a Catholic military order under its own charter from the Pope. Following the loss of Christian held territories of the Holy Land to Muslims, the Order operated from Rhodes (1309 -1522), over which they was sovereign, and later from Malta (1530-1798).
The years when Rhodes was occupied by the Order of the Knights of St. John could be considered as one of the Rhodes' most flourishing periods. The Knights stayed at Rhodes for 213 whole years, since 1309 till 1522 when the last Grand Master was forced to hand over the town to the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. They left imposing evidence of their time on Rhodes and gave it particular color which the town still retains in its impregnable walls, its gates, the churches and the hospitals, the inns and the majestic palaces.
The Order of Malta is one of the few Orders created in the Middle Ages and still active today. It is also the only one that is at the same time religious and sovereign.
After the loss of Malta the Order settled definitively in Rome in 1834 where it owns, with extraterritoriality status, the Magistral Palace in Via Condotti 68 and the Magistral Villa on the Aventine Hill.
The Sovereign Order of Malta is a sovereign subject of international law, with its own constitution, passports, stamps, and public institutions.
The 79th Grand Master, Fra' Matthew Festing, was elected Head of the Order for life on March 11th 2008. The Order has diplomatic relations with 104 countries - many of which non-Catholic - and missions to major European countries, as well as to European and international organizations. The original Hospitaller mission became once again the main activity of the Order, growing ever stronger during the last century.
For more information please visit the official website of the Order at: http://www.orderofmalta.int/
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