by Tatyana Zavyalova
Museums of Italy, France, Malta and Russia have combined efforts to make an impressive exhibition dedicated to the history of the oldest Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, better known as the Order of Malta.
This exhibition has opened in the Moscow Kremlin Museums to last between the 6th of July and the 9th of September.
Announcer: The exhibition called Nine Centuries of Serving Faith and Charity contains about 200 works of art and documents. The Moscow Kremlin Museums have provided a lot of unique items for the exhibition. Director of the Kremlin Museums Yelena Gagarina says:
“Rare items from collections and archives in Italy, Malta, France and the Island of Rhodes, as well as those of the Kremlin, bring to the memory the main periods of the life and activities of the Order of Malta that are full of heroic struggle and the noble cause of protecting poor people. Here one can see Grand Masters’ crowns, Daggers of Faith, crosses and insignia that belonged to famous Grand Masters, weapons and armour of the Knights and wonderful portraits. The highlight of the exhibition is a portrait of a Maltese knight painted by great Italian artist Caravaggio which was kindly lent by Palazzo Pitti in Florence.”
The exhibition in the Moscow Kremlin marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and the Order of Malta. In this connection, Grand Master Matthew Festing has arrived Moscow. Officials of this high rank had not visited Russia for over 200 years. The opening ceremony of the exhibition in the Kremlin was attended by Fra John Critien, the keeper of the Order of Malta’s art collections. He remembered close historical links between Russia and the Order of Malta.
“The exhibition grants a wonderful opportunity for Russian people to better understand the Sovereign Military Order which had relations with the Russian Empire for several very important years. They were the years when Emperor Paul I, initially a patron of the Order, became its Grand master and thus saved the order during the critical years of its existence. Visitors will understand why the Russian Emperor protected the Catholic Order.”
Those events date back to the very end of the 18th century when Napoleon conquered Malta in 1798 and the Order was mercilessly robbed and evicted. Paul I came to the rescue and invited the knights, who were well-known in the world for their humanistic activities, to Russia. In gratitude, they gave him the title of Grand Master. After the death of Paul I, the next Russian Emperor Alexander I refused to be the head of the Order, so practically all regalia of the Order were returned from Russia to Rome.
Contacts between Russia and the Order of Malta began long before Paul I. The Knights often helped Russian sailors. Curator of the Kremlin exhibition Yelena Gavrilova speaks about one of the exhibits, a manuscript with a long list of names.
“During the Battle of the Dardanelles in 1656, the united Navy of Russia and Venice defeated the Turkish Navy. Seven thousand of Christian slaves who served on Turkish galleys were set free as a result. Two and a half thousand of them were taken to Malta where they were provided with food and medical treatment, clothes and money. This document reads that each of the former slaves was given a sort of a passport to be able to go home. This list contains 1,200 names of our fellow-countrymen, Orthodox Christians described as Muscovites or Rusites.”
The Order of Malta has the reputation of some kind of an international rescue team. It grants aid to people in many countries spending up to a billion euros a year. Some volunteers of the Order are Russians, though there are only about 100 of them.