Friday, September 26, 2014

Castello di Magione of the SMOM

From the Malta Study Center

Today's ‪#‎FortressFriday‬ takes us to Magione (Umbria), Italy. Here we find the important Palace Fortress of La Badia, or Castello di Magione. The site was originally a pilgrims hostel controlled by the Templars, but passed to the Order of St. John of the Hospital in the 14th century. The current fortifications we see began under the Hospitallers. In the early 16th century, it became the site for the plot against Cesare Borgia led by Cardinale Giovan Battista Orsini; a plot described in "The Prince" by Machiavelli.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Hrad Strakonice - Former Castle of the SMOM in the Czech Republic

During the Hussite Wars the Order of St. John of Jerusalem was forced to move the location of its Grand Priory in the Kingdom of Bohemia to its castle in the town of Strakonice. Half of the Castle and a major portion of the adjacent lands were originally given to the Order of St. John in 1243 by the nobleman Bavor or Bavarian I.

According to legend, Bavor I was in the Holy Land in 1190 and promised that he would build a convent for the Order when (if?) he returned home. A historical document dating from 1225 evidences this. Confirmation is provided in another document that Bavor's wife, Bolemila, gave some villages to the Order. In 1243 they were given and Church and manor house in Strakonice, along with  several additional villages. The Order continued to expand its influence in the region and by the 14th century had built a hospital in school in Strakonice. The knights shared the castle with the Bavarian family until 1402 until declining family fortunes forced the sale of the rest of the castle and the town to the Order.

The head of the Grand Priory of Bohemia at that time was Jindrich of Hradec who consequently became the first ecclesiastical owner of the castle. During the plundering of their main residence in Prague during the Hussite wars the Grand Priory, including it's archives and insignia, was moved to Strakonice. Jindrich commanded the first major victory over the Hussites near Strakonice on March 25, 1420. He reportedly sustained an injury to his big toe in the battle which was serious enough that he died from the wound later in the year.

For the next 500 years the Order played an important role in the region. Unfortunately the effects of the communist revolution in Russia were being felt throughout Europe. Agrarian reforms and the Confiscation Act of 1919 impacted even the knights and they were forced to sell their estate with its mill, brick factory and brewery in 1925. Later during World War II they had to leave their buildings in the premises of the castle as well, including St. Procopius Church and the dean's residence.

However the fall of communism in the Czech Republic led the Order to negotiate with the local diocese about the restoration of there former properties. In 2008 an agreement was reached and once again the Grand Priory of Bohemia became owner of its historical properties. The picture at left shows the former Grand Prior's Residence in the foreground painted bright yellow.

For a more detailed history and current information about the castle and region visit the Hrad Strakonice website. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Feast of Our Lady of Philermo

Today the Church celebrates the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is venerated by the Order of Malta under the title of Our Lady of Philermo, the Patroness of our Order. Over at the blog of the Conventual Church of Saint John of Jerusalem, the Oratory of the Grand Priory of England my confrere has posted images of several shrines of Mary connected to the Order around the world. The one at left is of the Altar of Our Lady of Philermo at St. John's Valetta, Malta.

The blog of the Conventual Church has been taken down so I am re-posting the information that was there.

The MADONNA OF PHILERMO is an ancient sacred icon painted, according to legend, by Saint Luke, which had travelled miraculously across the sea from Jerusalem to Mount Phileremos on the island of Rhodes, where it was kept in a shrine, which later became a sanctuary.  From earliest times the icon was venerated as an object of great devotion. Christianity was brought to Rhodes by Saint Paul (as later to Malta) so the Christian community on this island was of great antiquity.

When the knights of the Order of Saint John conquered Rhodes in 1309, the Philermo Madonna soon became one of their most treasured possessions, and ever since they have held her in special veneration.  They observe her feast on the Birthday of Our Lady (8th September, kept also as the observance of the raising of the Ottoman Siege of Malta in 1565, attributed to Our Lady’s intercession), and they invoke her by the title of Our Lady of Philermo in the prayers of the Order and in the bidding prayers at Holy Mass.
The Grand Magistral castle and Porte d'Amboise on the mount of Phileremos.
After the loss of Rhodes to the Ottoman Turks in 1524 the icon accompanied the Knights on their peregrinations in search of a new home until they finally settled on Malta in 1530.  On arrival there it was kept in the church of Saint Lawrence in Birgu, and subsequently in the newly built city of Valletta, firstly in the church of Our Lady of Victories (the Victoria Church) and eventually in a special chapel in the Conventual Church of Saint John.  The icon was honoured with four sets of dresses, the oldest with the arms of Grand Master Philippe Villiers de l’Isle Adam (1464–1534), these were made in silks and velvet set with pearls and jewels.
The festal dress of Grand Master Villier de l'Isle Adam.
Made in the 16th century and added to in the 18th,
this was in use on feast days on Malta until the Knights left.
When the Knights were expelled from Malta by Napoleon in 1798 the Grand Master of the Order, Ferdinand von Hompesch, took the icon with him, and on abdicating the following year, sent it to Russia, together with the relics of the hand of Saint John the Baptist and a splinter of the True Cross, where the Knights gave it to Tsar Paul (who had been illegally elected Grand Master by a group of rebel knights, and supported in the hope that he might assist in regaining Malta for the Order.)  Having survived the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna took the icon with her to her native Denmark where she sought refuge in 1919.  Before her death in 1928 she entrusted the icon and relics to her daughters, who sent them to Belgrade via the president of the Synod of the Russian Bishops in exile in Berlin.  
A photograph of 1932, one of the last times it was seen before being lost during the War.
Note that the central stone now missing in the collar is still present at this period.
In 1932 they were consigned to the custody of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, who kept them in the chapel of the Royal palace in Dedinje.  In 1941, with the threat of an impending Nazi invasion, the icon and relics were sent to the orthodox monastery of Ostrog in Montenegro.  From this time all trace of them was lost until, in 1993, the icon was discovered in the storerooms of the National Museum at Cetinje, Montenegro.  It was confirmed as truly being the lost icon by the Italian scholar Giovanella Ferraris de Celle in 1997, and remains on display in the Museum.
The image of the Phileremos Madonna represents  the face of the Holy Virgin, without the Divine Child, in a fine and entirely Byzantine style.  The icon, which measures 44 by 36 centimetres, has been much mutilated, with only the beautiful face surviving, beneath a finely painted veil of tightly pleated linen.  It is set within a much later wooden panel. The stunning Russian plate, with the eight pointed cross of the Order of Malta in white enamel, is made of gold in the french empire style, with rubies, sapphires and diamonds from the Imperial collection, and has surprisingly survived its many travels.  The face is covered with a rock-crystal “glass” which may be the original recorded during its time in Malta.

During restoration in 2002 the plate was removed, and the photographer Stefan Vasiljevic was allowed to photograph the icon in detail.  He took pictures in various states, with and without the crystal and the plate, including details of the black paper which covers the icon beneath the plate.  The pictures of the original icon shown here are from this study.
The icon with the russian plate.
The icon uncovered, with the paper intended
to protect the paintwork from the gold plate.
The icon fully uncovered. The holes are made by the rivets holding the
jewels of the plate, which, unusually, was applied tight to the surface.
The damaged parts of the original icon have been cut away over time,
and the panel set within a much later wooden panel.
One can just see the painted folds of the linen veil to the sides of the face.
A copy, commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I in 1852 for processional use, has survived and is kept in the Basilica of S Maria degli Angeli at Assisi.  It has been repainted several times in a very inept manner, lastly, ironically, by a Turkish painter in Rhodes in the 1920s, having been taken there, in the absence of the original, by the Italian government which attempted to restore the shrine during the occupation of the island.  Our Lady wears an unpleated red veil, and it is this icon which has been frequently copied in the churches and associations of the Order of Malta, sadly bearing little resemblance, apart for Our Lady’s pose, to the exquisite and holy original, happily once again revealed to the world.

The Russian copy in its present state in Assisi.

In 2009 a full-size copy of the icon was painted in traditional egg tempera by an icon painter in Bulgaria, and given anonymously by a friend of the Order to the Grand Priory of England at Easter 2010.  It was blessed by the Prelate of the Order, Archbishop Angelo Acerbi, on 8th April 2010 in the chapel of Merton College, in the presence of the Prince and Grand Master, Fra' Matthew Festing, during the international meeting of the professed of the Order held in Oxford. The painter was able to study the photographs from Montenegro, and base the design and colours of the veil on the original. As there is no surviving evidence of the background, she decided to leave this in plain gold. The icon is housed in the Chancellery of the Order in London. Please pray for the donor and his family. 

The Grand Priory also possesses a large piece of rock from Mount Phileremos which is venerated in the Conventual Church.
The Grand Priory of England's copy.
Collect for the Feast of Our Lady of Philermo 
Instituted by Pope Sergius I (686 - 701) as the Birthday of Our Lady, 
and a Solemnity of the Order, kept on the 8th September. 
WE BESEECH YOU, O LORD, to impart upon your servants the gift of heavenly grace : 
that as the childbearing of the blessed Virgin was to us the beginning of salvation; 
so may the celebration of her Nativity bestow an increase of peace.  
Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God for ever and ever.  Amen.

Our Lady of Philermo, pray for us.

Some stamps issued by the Grand Magistry, bearing the image 
of both the original and Russian copy of Our Lady of Philermo.

Photo credits: All modern images of the true icon © Stefan Vasiljevic 2002. 
Image source credit: Brotherhood of Blessed Gerard website:
Text: The late Colonel Tommy Pace RAMC, Knight of Magistral Grace, and others.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Malteser International Provides Medicines to Displaced Iraqi Christians and Minorities

Back to school means thousands of displaced will soon be homeless

Malteser International, the worldwide relief agency of the Order of Malta, will secure medical assistance for 10,000 displaced Christians and minorities in north Iraq over a period of three months. A shipment containing drugs, medical supplies and hygiene items will be distributed to the camps around Erbil through the humanitarian agency’s network on the ground.

Humanitarian aid for Gaza victims delivered by Order of Malta

The Order of Malta’s hospital in Bethlehem sends essential medicines to the general hospital on the Gaza Strip

The recent conflict in Gaza has been devastating in terms of 2000 lives lost, 9500 wounded and almost a quarter of the population displaced. All the infrastructure (electricity, access to water, transport, health and schools) has been seriously damaged. A great number of hospitals and health centres – destroyed or damaged by the fighting – are only partially functioning.

The Sovereign Order of Malta hopes that the present ceasefire can mean the end of the armed conflict in the Gaza Strip and that humanitarian aid can be distributed to the more vulnerable population groups.

The few hospitals still functioning in Gaza are overcrowded and cannot cope with the thousands of wounded without outside assistance. The worsening of the humanitarian situation has prompted the Order of Malta’s Holy Family hospital in Bethlehem to organize support for the Al-Shifa general hospital in Gaza and several pallets of medicines and equipment were sent last weekend.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Malteser International to Assess Situation in Iraq

A Malteser International assessment team arrives today in Erbil, north Iraq, in order to prepare relief efforts for persecuted minorities. Oliver Hochedez, Malteser International’s emergency relief expert, will lead the team on the ground to prepare the deployment of immediate aid for at least the next three months, in order to support displaced Christians and Yazidi communities that have fled from the militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate (IS). “This is a very important deployment, as the persecuted population is in great need and the current humanitarian situation is deplorable,” Hochedez explains. “Added to that is the extremely difficult security situation.”

For over a decade the Order of Malta’s international relief agency has supported a health care center in Karamlish, in the Nineveh region, in cooperation with its Iraqi partners and the local Chaldean Catholic Church. On Aug. 6, IS took control of the town, and the center was forced to suspend its activities. “The townspeople, who are mostly Christian, ran away to Erbil,” Hochedez tells. “We are checking whether the staff from the health center can provide medical assistance to the displaced families, and whether we can purchase the necessary drugs and medical supplies for the refugees.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Anniversary of the Order of Malta's Support of East German refugees in Hungary

'Budapest, 21/08/2014

Hungary and the Order of Malta celebrate the Order’s key role in supporting East German refugees. Messages of Angela Merkel and Fra’ Matthew Festing.

On August 14, 1989, the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta set up in the garden of Zugliget parish church in Budapest the first refugee camp to deal with the tens of thousands of East German refugees fleeing into Hungary. For an intense period of over three months the Service cared for almost 47,000 refugees. The event, known as the Day of Welcoming, is marked every year.

In opening the 25th anniversary celebrations Father Imre Kozma, founding president of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta, recalled receiving with Baroness Csilla von Boeselager the request of the West German Embassy that they take care of the East German refugees. He remarked, “Hungary evoked the admiration of the world in 1989; the Hungarian people had leaders with the courage to take risks, and their decisions meant the only glimmer of hope for refugees”.

Grand Masters Request to Pray for Persecuted in Iraq


This blog and the opinions are all my own and in no way imply the endorsement from any organization. Nor does a recommendation of another blog or web site imply my agreement or endorsement of everything found on their site.