As a sovereign entity, the SMOM appoints representatives to many international organisations. It has Permanent Observer status at the United Nations and is often involved in the work of various UN agencies. The photograph shows the Order’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations meeting the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.
After their expulsion from the Holy Land, the Knights of St John settled briefly in Cyprus before moving to Rhodes. When they lost the island after a lengthy Ottoman siege in 1523, they moved to Malta, where they stayed for nearly three centuries before being ousted by Napoleon. Eventually, in 1834, the Order established its headquarters in the Palazzo di Malta in Via Condotti, the narrow street running from the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Like foreign embassies, both the Palazzo di Malta and another property belonging to the Order in Rome have extraterritorial status.
His Most Eminent Highness Fra Andrew Bertie is the 78th Prince and Grand Master of the SMOM since the Order was founded just over 900 years ago. He was born in England, of aristocratic descent, in 1929. He served as an officer in the Scots Guards and subsequently taught French and Spanish for more than 20 years at a private school in England. He became a religious member of the Order of Malta in 1981 and seven years later was elected Grand Master. As supreme head of the Order, he is accorded the privileges of a head of state by the 93 countries with which the Order has diplomatic relations. He is also accorded the rank of Cardinal by the Catholic Church.
If you thought Monaco was small, wait until you see the Order of Malta’s territory in Rome. You can walk right round the outside of the building in Via Condotti in a couple of minutes. And in fact you might even walk right past the building without noticing it, especially if you are watching the Japanese tourists queuing for their designer-label goods in the shops on the other side of the street.
The traditional date of the founding of the Order of the Knights of St John is 1099. According to the story, a group of merchants obtained permission from the Caliph of Egypt to build a church and hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims of any faith or race. The monastic community which developed grew in importance and power and on 15 February 1113 Pope Pascal II issued a Papal Bull which granted the hospital in Jerusalem various rights and privileges, including the right to elect its superiors without any interference from church or secular authorities. This is the source of the Order’s sovereignty.