As the year ends … more 2013 anniversaries
An earlier entry to this blog pointed out that 2013 marks the 800th anniversary of the issue of Quia Maior, one of the key texts in the development of crusading. But there are other significant anniversaries to record before the last stroke of midnight on 31 December. Back in February the Order of Malta, the descendant of the Knights of St John, celebrated 900 years since the release of Pascal II’s bull Pie postulatio voluntatis. The Pope granted the bull to the Order’s founder, a man called Gerard (other than the name we know virtually nothing about him). In the aftermath of the capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade Gerard set up a hospital in the city to cater to the needs – which ranged far beyond the medical – of pilgrims who had come east to venerate the holy places.
Pie postulatio voluntatis granted Gerard’s new foundation various privileges and exemptions without which it couldn’t have survived. From that tiny acorn the great Order of Malta sprang, and on 7 February 2013 5,000 members and volunteers of the Order assembled in Rome for a two-day conference. Their meeting concluded with a solemn mass in St Peter’s and an address by the Pope – Benedict XVI, because this was a few days before his momentous announcement that he would abdicate.
From Pascal II to Benedict XVI, over a span of nine centuries: the continuities are astonishing. It’s unlikely that Pascal would find much that was familiar in the church presided over by Benedict and Francis, but Gerard would surely be delighted with what has become of his new Order. For an Order that was soon driven by circumstances to pursue a military vocation in the Holy Land has today reverted entirely to its original mission of carrying out humanitarian and relief work. For that reason, as well as a past that is steeped in colour and heroism, the Order of Malta today retains its popularity.
This applies not least to North America, where one of its affiliate institutions is the Malta Study Center, located in the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library [HMML] at Collegeville in Minnesota. Here for forty years – another anniversary! – dedicated staff have been collecting microfilms of manuscripts relating to the Order from numerous archives, prioritising the endangered ones. The Center made the all-important move from microfilm to digital technology in 2003, and in June the National Archives of Malta sent its one-millionth digital image to HMML.
Much more could be said about the Malta Study Center and the work of HMML but there is no need to do that here because they have a strong online presence at www.hmml.org and are on Facebook as www.facebook.com/HMML.MSC. The indefatigable Theresa Vann has a great blog at melitensia.blogspot.co.uk. The Order of Malta’s website is www.orderofmalta.int, and naturally it highlights the ongoing work of the Order. One of their most recent postings describes relief operations for Syrian refugees who’ve been granted asylum in Bulgaria. The human need, and therefore the work, is unending.