The Knights of St. John and the Carmelite Church in Valletta

The Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem changed the history of Malta in 1530 after being ousted from Rhodes in 1522. A new era had been ushered in.

The outcome of the siege of Malta against Suleiman’s Ottoman armada in 1565 also changed the history of Europe. It was a siege that modern historians describe as the “Stalingrad of the 20th century”. Malta had conquered a place on the map of Europe and had hindered the advance of the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean.

The knights found in Malta a Christian and European environment. The Maltese bravely fought with the knights against the common enemy.

The city of Valletta was built in a cosmopolitan atmosphere because of the knights, descendants of noble families and patrons of fine arts. They brought with them their traditions and their European culture. The defense of religion was the ideal that united the knights despite their various languages ​​and nationalities.

After the laying of the first stone on March 28, 1566, the construction of La Valette continued rapidly.

Grandmaster Pietro del Monte (1568-1572) granted land to the Carmelite friars to build their convent and church in the new town.

The contract by which Grand Master Pietro del Monte transferred a plot of land to the Carmelite friars in order to build their convent and church in Valletta.

The relative deed of transfer was received on July 27, 1570, in the registers of the notary Placido Habel (Abela).

Knights Cristofano Leboullens, Raimondo Fortuin and Giorgio Caccherano appeared on the act on behalf of the Order, while Father Ġwann Vella, Vicar of the Provincial of Sicily, appeared on behalf of the Carmelite Friars. The Carmelite friars were then part of the Order in Sicily.

The architect and engineer Girolamo Cassar was present at the signing of the deed and the witnesses were the knights Christofano de Sire, Filippo de Tuglieres and Gabriel de Magnes.

The land was allocated to the Carmelite friars for 66 crowns, half of which was paid upon signing the contract, while the other half was to be paid on All Saints Day of that same year.

However, by decree of April 3, 1571, the second part of the purchase price, 33 scudi, was not paid as stipulated in the deed because the Grand Master granted free grace to the brothers not to pay the balance due.

In addition, by another decree of April 19, 1571, Grand Master Del Monte graciously authorized the restitution of the sum of 33 crowns initially paid by the brothers on the contract. In other words, the land on which the convent and the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel were built was given free of charge to the Carmelite friars.

In addition to the artistic heritage they bequeathed to Malta, the Knights instituted legacies and pious foundations in several churches in Malta, including the Marian Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta.

We will mention the knight Girolamo de Fosses, who built at his own expense the chapel of Notre-Dame du Pilar in the Carmelite church of La Valette.

The Catalan Grand Master Nicolás Cotoner y de Oleza (1663-1680) received the habit of Knight Hospitaller on June 15, 1627 from the Commendatore Baldassare de Marcella in this chapel of Our Lady of Pilar.

Grand Master Nicolás Cotoner y de OlezaGrand Master Nicolás Cotoner y de Oleza

Com. Fabrizio Cagliola (1604-1665), a learned conventual chaplain to the clergy of the Order of Jerusalem, was buried in the Carmelite church of Valletta where he had instituted a bequest for the celebration of the feast of the Annunciation. Com. Bonaface Puget Chiastuel and Comm. Claudio Gaspare La Ricciadera (1675) instituted a bequest for the celebration of masses in the chapel of Saint Joseph.

Com. Tiburzio Dolz (Spanish) donated a painting of Our Lady of Mercy (Della Mercede) (1705) to the Carmelites of La Valette. Grand Master Anton Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736) bequeathed an inheritance of 300 crowns in gold to the Madonna of Mercede.

Other knight benefactors of the Carmelite Church of Valletta include Giovanni Innocenzo Maria Caravita (1696), Prior Grand Cross of Lombardy, and Bailiff Karl Herberstein (1707). The knight Ferdinand Rosselmini bequeathed by title of donation a building in La Valette to the brothers (1753).

Grand Master Ferdinand Von HompeschGrand Master Ferdinand Von Hompesch

Knights lived in communities in their respective territories hostel which provided accommodation, especially to young knights, for purposes of training and discipline. High dignitaries of the Order enjoyed the prerogative of having their own palatial mansions, which explains the many Baroque houses that adorn and beautify Valletta.

The languages had their small churches for daily devotions and mass. Often, these small churches were close to the inn, except for the knights of the Langue of France who had their small church, Our Lady of Liesseclose to the quay of the port of Valletta.

As they did not have their own small church for their daily devotions – perhaps it was because they were few in number – the German knights attended the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which was very close to their hostel.

It is reported that Franz Sigismund Von Thun Hohenstein received the habit of Knight Hospitaller on June 19, 1661 from the Austro-Bohemian Grand Bailiff Adam Von Wratislao Mitrawitza in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In this same church was buried Count Von Golzen, Knight of the Order.

During Henry Tudor’s Protestant Reformation (1509-1547), the English language became inactive and consequently no longer had its inn and small church in Valletta.

After his election to the magistracy, which took place on July 11, 1797, Ferdinand Von Hompesch visited the nuns of Jerusalem in Valletta on July 20, during the celebration of a solemn mass, followed by the singing of the Te Deum, the hymn of thanksgiving.

On July 23, 1797, Hompesch attended mass at the Carmelite church when a Te Deum was intoned amidst the carillon of the bells of all the churches in Valletta.

The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta is celebrated on Saturday July 16.

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Martha J. Finley