|Official languages Italian|
Founder Blessed Gerard
Date established February 15, 1113
|Currency Maltese scudo|
Founded Jerusalem, Israel
|Capital Palazzo Malta Via dei Condotti 68 Rome, Italy|
Sovereign military order of malta hail thou white cross
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (Latin: Supremus Ordo Militaris Hospitalis Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodius et Melitensis), also known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) or Order of Malta, is a Roman Catholic lay religious order traditionally of military, chivalrous and noble nature. It was founded as the Knights Hospitaller circa 1099 in Jerusalem, Kingdom of Jerusalem, by the Blessed Gerard, making it the world's oldest surviving chivalric order. Headquartered in Palazzo Malta in Rome, widely considered a sovereign subject of international law, its mission is summed up in its motto: Tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum, "Defence of the (Catholic) faith and assistance to the poor".
- Sovereign military order of malta hail thou white cross
- Name and insignia
- Protestant Reformation
- Colonies in the Caribbean
- Great siege of Malta
- Battle of Lepanto
- French occupation of Malta
- Relations with the Republic of Malta
- The order today
- Festing resignation
- Patrons of the order since 1961
- Prelate of the order
- Currency and postage stamps
- Military Corps
- Air force
- Orders decorations and medals
- In fiction
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is the present-day continuation of the medieval Knights Hospitaller, now based in Rome, with origins in the Fraternitas Hospitalaria hospital founded circa 1048 by merchants from the Duchy of Amalfi in the Muristan district of Jerusalem, Fatimid Caliphate, to provide medical care for pilgrims to the Holy Land. Following the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade and the loss of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to the Mamluk Sultanate, it became a military order to protect Christians against Islamic persecution and was recognised as sovereign in 1113 by Pope Paschal II. It operated from Cyprus (1291–1310), Rhodes (1310–1523), Malta (1530–1798), over which it was sovereign until the French occupation, and from Palazzo Malta in Rome from 1834 until the present, subsequently known under its current name. The order venerates as its patroness Mary, mother of Jesus, under the title "Our Lady of Mount Philermos".
The Order retains sovereignty under international law, including United Nations permanent observer status, issuing its own passports, currency and postage stamps with the Maltese cross insignia. The order's military corps, three brigades, are stationed throughout Italy, liaisoned with the Italian Armed Forces.
The Order, with 13,500 Knights, Dames and auxiliary members, employs about 25,000 doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and paramedics assisted by 80,000 volunteers in more than 120 countries, assisting children, homeless, handicapped, refugeed, elders, terminally ill and lepers around the world without distinction of ethnicity or religion. Through its worldwide relief corps, Malteser International, the order aids victims of natural disasters, epidemics and war. In several countries, including France, Germany and Ireland, local associations of the order are important providers of medical emergency services and training.
Name and insignia
The order has a large number of local priories and associations around the world, but there also exist a number of organizations with similar-sounding names that are unrelated, including numerous fraudulent (self-styled) orders seeking to capitalize on the name.
In the ecclesiastical heraldry of the Roman Catholic Church, the Order of Malta is one of only two orders (along with the Order of the Holy Sepulchre) whose insignia may be displayed in a clerical coat of arms. (Laypersons have no such restriction.) The shield is surrounded with a silver rosary for professed knights, or for others the ribbon of their rank. Members may also display the Maltese cross behind their shield instead of the ribbon.
In order to protect its heritage against frauds, the order has legally registered 16 versions of its names and emblems in some 100 countries.
The birth of the order dates back to around 1048. Merchants from the ancient Marine Republic of Amalfi obtained from the Caliph of Egypt the authorisation to build a church, convent, and hospital in Jerusalem, to care for pilgrims of any religious faith or race. The Order of St. John of Jerusalem–the monastic community that ran the hospital for the pilgrims in the Holy Land–became independent under the guidance of its founder, the religious brother Gerard.
With the Bull of 15 February 1113, Pope Paschal II approved the foundation of the Hospital and placed it under the aegis of the Holy See, granting it the right to freely elect its superiors without interference from other secular or religious authorities. By virtue of the Papal Bull, the hospital became an order exempt from the control of the local church. All the Knights were religious, bound by the three monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The constitution of the Kingdom of Jerusalem regarding the crusades obliged the order to take on the military defence of the sick, the pilgrims, and the territories that the crusaders had captured from the Muslims. The order thus added the task of defending the faith to that of its hospitaller mission.
As time went on, the order adopted the white eight-pointed Cross that is still its symbol today. The eight points represent the eight "beatitudes" that Jesus pronounced in his Sermon on the Mount.
When the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land fell after the Siege of Acre in 1291, the order settled first in Cyprus.
In 1310, led by Grand Master Fra' Foulques de Villaret, the knights regrouped on the island of Rhodes. From there, the defense of the Christian world required the organization of a naval force; so the Order built a powerful fleet and sailed the eastern Mediterranean, fighting battles for the sake of Christendom, including Crusades in Syria and Egypt.
In the early 14th century, the institutions of the Order and the knights who came to Rhodes from every corner of Europe were grouped according to the languages they spoke. The first seven such groups, or Langues (Tongues) – from Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon (Navarre), England (with Scotland and Ireland), and Germany – became eight in 1492, when Castille and Portugal were separated from the Langue of Aragon. Each Langue included Priories or Grand Priories, Bailiwicks, and Commanderies.
The Order was governed by its Grand Master, the Prince of Rhodes, and its Council. From its beginning, independence from other nations granted by pontifical charter and the universally recognised right to maintain and deploy armed forces constituted grounds for the international sovereignty of the Order, which minted its own coins and maintained diplomatic relations with other States. The senior positions of the Order were given to representatives of different Langues.
After six months of siege and fierce combat against the fleet and army of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the Knights were forced to surrender in 1523 and left Rhodes with military honours. The order remained without a territory of its own until 1530, when Grand Master Fra' Philippe de Villiers de l'Isle Adam took possession of the island of Malta, granted to the order by Emperor Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and his mother Queen Joanna of Castile as monarchs of Sicily, with the approval of Pope Clement VII, for which the order had to honour the conditions of the Tribute of the Maltese Falcon.
The Reformation which split Western Europe into Protestant and Roman Catholic states affected the knights as well. In several countries, including England, Scotland and Sweden, the order was disestablished. In others, including the Netherlands and Germany, entire bailiwicks or commanderies (administrative divisions of the order) experienced religious conversions. The "Johanniter orders" claim to be the modern Protestant continuations of these converted divisions in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and other countries, including the United States and South Africa. It was established that the order should remain neutral in any war between Christian nations.
Colonies in the Caribbean
From 1651 to 1665, the Order of Saint John ruled four islands in the Caribbean. On 21 May 1651, it acquired the islands of Saint Barthélemy, Saint Christopher, Saint Croix and Saint Martin. These were purchased from the French Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique which had just been dissolved. In 1665 the four islands were sold to the French West India Company.
Great siege of Malta
In 1565 the Knights, led by Grand Master Fra' Jean de Vallette (after whom the capital of Malta, Valletta, was named), defended the island for more than three months during the Great Siege by the Turks.
Battle of Lepanto
The fleet of the order contributed to the ultimate destruction of the Ottoman naval power in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, led by John of Austria, half brother of King Philip II of Spain.
French occupation of Malta
Two hundred years later, in 1798, the order surrendered the Maltese islands to the French First Republic under Napoleon, following the French Revolution and the subsequent French Revolutionary Wars.
Following the French occupation of Malta, the knights were expelled from the territory.
The Treaty of Amiens (1802) obliged the United Kingdom to evacuate Malta which was to be restored to a recreated Order of St. John, whose sovereignty was to be guaranteed by all of the major European powers, to be determined at the final peace. However, this was not to be because objections to the treaty quickly grew in the UK.
Bonaparte's rejection of a British offer involving a ten-year lease of Malta prompted the reactivation of the British blockade of the French coast; Britain declared war on France on 18 May.
The 1802 treaty was never implemented. The UK gave its official reasons for resuming hostilities as France's imperialist policies in the West Indies, Italy and Switzerland.
After having temporarily resided in Messina, Catania, and Ferrara, in 1834 the precursor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta settled definitively in Rome, where it owns, with extraterritorial status, the Magistral Palace in Via Condotti 68 and the Magistral Villa on the Aventine Hill.
The original hospitaller mission became the main activity of the order, growing ever stronger during the last century, most especially because of the contribution of the activities carried out by the Grand Priories and National Associations in so many countries around the world. Large-scale hospitaller and charitable activities were carried out during World Wars I and II under Grand Master Fra' Ludovico Chigi Albani della Rovere (1931–1951). Under the Grand Masters Fra' Angelo de Mojana di Cologna (1962–88) and Fra' Andrew Bertie (1988–2008), the projects expanded.
Relations with the Republic of Malta
Two bilateral treaties have been concluded with the Republic of Malta. The first treaty is dated 21 June 1991 and is now no longer in force. The second treaty was signed on 5 December 1998 and ratified on 1 November 2001.
This agreement grants the Order the use with limited extraterritoriality of the upper portion of Fort St Angelo in the city of Birgu. Its stated purpose is "to give the Order the opportunity to be better enabled to carry out its humanitarian activities as Knights Hospitallers from Saint Angelo, as well as to better define the legal status of Saint Angelo subject to the sovereignty of Malta over it".
The agreement has a duration of 99 years, but the document allows the Maltese Government to terminate it at any time after 50 years. Under the terms of the agreement, the flag of Malta is to be flown together with the flag of the Order in a prominent position over Saint Angelo. No asylum may be granted by the Order and generally the Maltese courts have full jurisdiction and Maltese law shall apply. The second bilateral treaty mentions a number of immunities and privileges, none of which appeared in the earlier treaty.
The order today
In February 2013, the order celebrated the 900th anniversary of its recognition as a sovereign entity by the Papal bull Pie Postulatio Voluntatis, issued on 15 February 1113 by Pope Paschal II. The celebration included a general audience given by Pope Benedict XVI and a Holy Mass celebrated by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at Saint Peter's Basilica.
On 10 November 2016, Cardinal Raymond Burke had an audience with Pope Francis, where he asked the Pope to support the removal of Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager from his position as the Order's Grand Chancellor. On 6 December 2016, Grand Master Matthew Festing requested Boeselager's resignation in a meeting attended by Cardinal Burke. Boeselager refused to resign and then refused Festing's order to resign. Whether or not anyone in that meeting falsely told Boeselager the Holy See supported his removal was later disputed by the participants. The Grand Commander, Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, with the support of Festing and the Sovereign Council, then suspended Boeselager from membership in the Order, removing him from office as Grand Chancellor.
Some inside the Order and many journalists' accounts attributed the differences between Festing and Boeselager to events that occurred a few years earlier when Boeselager was responsible for managing charitable work as the Order's Grand Hospitaller. In that case, the Order's charitable arm Malteser International (MI) had worked with several NGOs to aid sex slaves in Myanmar and Boeselager knew that aid programs with which MI cooperated had distributed condoms to help women forced into prostitution protect themselves from AIDS. An investigation deemed the relationship improper and established tighter guidelines to prevent MI from cooperating with NGOs that violated Catholic doctrine. According to Festing, the condom distribution issue had been resolved three years ago and the Order said that Boeselager's removal was prompted by "severe problems which occurred during Boeselager's tenure as Grand Hospitaller of the Order of Malta, and his subsequent concealment of these problems from the Grand Magistry, as proved in a report commissioned by the Grand Master last year". Boeselager told friends that his dismissal was based on the charge that he was "a liberal Catholic unwilling to accept the teaching of the Church", a charge he denied. He also called the proceedings against him "more reminiscent of an authoritarian regime than one of religious obedience". A few weeks later, while saying the reason for his removal remained "a mystery", he speculated that it reflected "an increasing tension and disagreement between the elected government of the Order ... and people brought in by the Grand Master without regard to the constitution in positions that are not constitutional". Several senior officials of the Order questioned Boeselager's dismissal and called for an investigation or a summit of the Order's leadership. On 14 December, Festing appointed Fra' John Edward Critien as the interim Grand Chancellor.
Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent two letters to Festing on 12 December and 21 December objecting to any assertion that the Pope wanted to see Boeslager removed from office. He wrote in both letters that the Pope "has never spoken of sending someone away!" In the second he said that Boeslager's removal "must not be attributed to the will of the Pope or his directives". He also asserted the Pope's authority over a "lay religious Order" and his decision to have an investigation conducted. On 23 December, Pope Francis announced he had formed a commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding Boeselager's removal. It included two members of the curia and three prominent Catholic laymen with close ties to the Order. On 24 December 2016, Festing sent a message to Pope Francis that Boeselager's removal was an internal matter, and that the investigation was unacceptable to the Order. Festing restated this position in an address to ambassadors accredited to the Order on 10 January: "the substitution of the Grand Chancellor at the beginning of last December was an act of internal administration of the Sovereign Order of Malta's government. It therefore falls exclusively within the institutional powers of the Order." On 17 January 2017, the Holy See reaffirmed its support for its commission and rejected attempts on the part of the Order to discredit its work.
On 24 January 2017, after Pope Francis received his commission's report, which the German-language Catholic News Service (Katholische Nachrichten-Agentur) later said exonerated Boeselager, he met with Grand Master Matthew Festing and asked him to resign. Cardinal Burke met with Festing and tried in vain to persuade him to rescind his resignation. Festing's resignation was announced by a spokesperson for the Knights of Malta the same day. On 25 January, the Pope accepted the resignation with "appreciation and gratitude". The Vatican announced that the Pope would name a papal delegate to oversee the Order. Writing on 25 January to members of the Order's governing council on behalf of Pope Francis, Cardinal Parolin confirmed that all of the Order's actions taken since 6 December 2016, such as the appointment of Critien as a temporary replacement for Boeselager, were "null and void".
Alain de Tonquédec, vice-president of the French association of members of the Order of Malta, commented: "The Order is a collateral victim of the troubled relationship between the pope and Cardinal Raymond Burke." Erich Lobkowicz, President of the Order's German Association, said that the affair was a "battle between all that Pope Francis stands for and a tiny clique of ultraconservative frilly old diehards", referring to the ongoing factional dispute within the Order between the German branch's focus on delivering charity services to the poor and sick and a more conservative agenda devoted to the development and promotion of the Order's elite quasi-monastic arm. He said those who depicted the Germans as a liberal faction were attacking them as a proxy for Pope Francis. Festing's leadership was also questioned by many who provided information to the papal commission, notably his appointment to the Sovereign Council of one knight who, along with two other British knights in the Order, had mishandled complaints of sexual abuse.
On 27 January, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the Sovereign Council assuring the Order of his respect for its sovereignty. It said that his delegate would strive to "renew the spirituality of the Order, specifically of those members who take vows." He added that the delegate would be "my sole spokesman…for everything about the order's relations with the Holy See", which The Tablet interpreted as taking over Cardinal Burke's role at least until a new Grand Master is elected: "It means that while Cardinal Burke is still technically be in office, he is out of power." On 28 January, the Order announced that the Sovereign Council had accepted Festing's resignation, that Boeselager had been reinstated as Grand Chancellor effective immediately, and that Grand Commander Rumerstein would act as the Lieutenant ad interim until a new Grand Master is elected. The Order also said:
The Sovereign Order of Malta is most grateful to Pope Francis and the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin for their interest in and care for the Order. The Order appreciates that the Holy Father's decisions were all carefully taken with regard to and respect for the Order, with a determination to strengthen its sovereignty.
On 15 February 2017, the Order announced that a meeting to elect a new Grand Master would be held on 29 April. The Order's constitution allows for the election of a Grand Master to serve a one-year term rather than for life. On 4 February 2017, Pope Francis named Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, an official in the Holy See's Secretariat of State, his special delegate to the Sovereign Order of Malta, charging him to work with the Lieutenant ad interim for the "reconciliation" of the Order's members, both lay and religious, and to develop a path for the "appropriate spiritual renovation [aggiornamento]" of the Order. The appointment appeared to circumscribe entirely the role of the Order's Patron, Cardinal Burke, whose normal responsibilities were assigned to Becciu as "sole spokesperson in all matters relating to relations" between the Pope and the Order. Formiche.net journalist Niccolò Mazzarino e Veronica Sansonetti also claimed on February 6, 2017 that the Vatican's letter to the Order which assigned Becciu to his role as the Order's Papal Delegate also indicated that Burke was ousted from his role in the Order as well.
On February 15, the Lieutenant ad interim asserted that Cardinal Burke had requested Festing's resignation on 6 December, thereby violating the sovereignty of the Order. Burke said he was "stunned" by that account of the meeting and called it a "calumny". On February 19, Boeselager said that Burke was de facto suspended from his position as Patron of the Order.
The proceedings of the Order are governed by its Constitutional Charter and the Order's Code. It is divided internationally into six territorial Grand Priories, six Sub-Priories and 47 national associations.
The six Grand Priories are:
The supreme head of the Order is the Grand Master, who is elected for life by the Council Complete of State, holds the precedence of a cardinal of the Church since 1630 and received the rank of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1607. Matthew Festing was elected by the Council as 79th Grand Master on 11 March 2008, succeeding Andrew Bertie, who was Grand Master until his death on 7 February 2008. Electors in the Council include the members of the Sovereign Council, other office-holders and representatives of the members of the Order. The Grand Master is aided by the Sovereign Council (the government of the Order), which is elected by the Chapter General, the legislative body of the Order. The Chapter General meets every five years; at each meeting, all seats of the Sovereign Council are up for election. The Sovereign Council includes six members and four High Officers: the Grand Commander, the Grand Chancellor, the Grand Hospitaller and the Receiver of the Common Treasure. The Grand Commander is the chief religious officer of the Order and serves as "Interim Lieutenant" during a vacancy in the office of Grand Master. The Grand Chancellor, whose office includes those of the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the head of the executive branch; he is responsible for the Diplomatic Missions of the Order and relations with the national Associations. The Grand Hospitaller's responsibilities include the offices of Minister for Humanitarian Action and Minister for International Cooperation; he coordinates the Order's humanitarian and charitable activities. Finally, the Receiver of the Common Treasure is the Minister of Finance and Budget; he directs the administration of the finances and property of the Order.
Patrons of the order since 1961
The patron, who is either a cardinal when appointed by the pope or soon raised to that rank, promotes the spiritual interests of the Order and its members, and its relations with the Holy See.
Prelate of the order
The pope appoints the prelate of the order to supervise the clergy of the order, choosing from among three candidates proposed by the Grand Master. On 4 July 2015 Pope Francis named as prelate Bishop Jean Laffitte, who had held various offices in the Roman Curia for more than a decade. Laffitte succeeded Archbishop Angelo Acerbi, who had held the office since 2001. Laffitte's appointment followed the traditional meeting between the pope and the Grand Master, and an audience with the Grand Chancellor and others as well, held on 24 June, the feast of St. John the Baptist.
Membership in the order is divided into three classes each of which is subdivided into several categories:
Within each class and category of knights are ranks ranging from bailiff grand cross (the highest) through knight grand cross, and knight — thus one could be a "knight of grace and devotion," or a "bailiff grand cross of justice." The final rank of donat is offered to some who join the order in the class of "justice" but who are not knights. Bishops and priests are generally honorary members, or knights, of the Order of Malta. However, there are some priests who are full members of the Order, and this is usually because they were conferred knighthood prior to ordination. The priests of the Order of Malta are ranked as Honorary Canons, as in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre; and they are entitled to wear the black mozetta with purple piping and purple fascia.
Prior to the 1990s, all officers of the Order had to be of noble birth (i.e., armigerous for at least a hundred years), as they were all knights of justice or of obedience. However, Knights of Magistral Grace (i.e., those without noble proofs) now may make the Promise of Obedience and, at the discretion of the Grand Master and Sovereign Council, may enter the novitiate to become professed Knights of Justice.
Worldwide, there are over 13,000 knights and dames, of whom approximately 55 are professed religious. Membership in the Order is by invitation only and solicitations are not entertained.
The Order's finances are audited by a Board of Auditors, which includes a President and four Councillors, all elected by the Chapter General. The Order's judicial powers are exercised by a group of Magistral Courts, whose judges are appointed by the Grand Master and Sovereign Council.
SMOM has formal diplomatic relations with 106 states and has official relations with another six states and with the European Union. Additionally it has relations with the International Committee of the Red Cross and a number of international organizations, including observer status at the UN and some of the specialized agencies. Its international nature is useful in enabling it to pursue its humanitarian activities without being seen as an operative of any particular nation. Its sovereignty is also expressed in the issuance of passports, licence plates, stamps, and coins.
With its unique history and unusual present circumstances, the exact status of the Order in international law has been the subject of debate. It describes itself as a "sovereign subject of international law." Its two headquarters in Rome – the Palazzo Malta in Via dei Condotti 68, where the Grand Master resides and Government Bodies meet, and the Villa del Priorato di Malta on the Aventine, which hosts the Grand Priory of Rome – Fort St. Angelo on the island of Malta, the Embassy of the Order to Holy See and the Embassy of the Order to Italy have all been granted extraterritoriality.
Unlike the Holy See, however, which is sovereign over Vatican City and thus has clear territorial separation of its sovereign area and that of Italy, SMOM has had no territory since the loss of the island of Malta in 1798, other than only those current properties with extraterritoriality listed above. Italy recognizes, in addition to extraterritoriality, the exercise by SMOM of all the prerogatives of sovereignty in its headquarters. Therefore, Italian sovereignty and SMOM sovereignty uniquely coexist without overlapping. The United Nations does not classify it as a "non-member state" or "intergovernmental organization" but as one of the "other entities having received a standing invitation to participate as observers." For instance, while the International Telecommunication Union has granted radio identification prefixes to such quasi-sovereign jurisdictions as the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority, SMOM has never received one. For awards purposes, amateur radio operators consider SMOM to be a separate "entity", but stations transmitting from there use an entirely unofficial callsign, starting with the prefix "1A". Likewise, for internet and telecommunications identification, the SMOM has neither sought nor been granted a top-level domain or international dialling code, whereas the Vatican City uses its own domain (.va), and has been allocated the country code +379.
There are differing opinions as to whether a claim to sovereign status has been recognized. Ian Brownlie, Helmut Steinberger, and Wilhelm Wengler are among experts who say that the claim has not been recognized. Even taking into account the Order's ambassadorial diplomatic status among many nations, a claim to sovereign status is sometimes rejected. The Order maintains diplomatic missions around the world and many of the states reciprocate by accrediting ambassadors to the Order.
Wengler—a German professor of international law—addresses this point in his book Völkerrecht (1964), and rejects the notion that recognition of the Order by some states can make it a subject of international law. Conversely, professor Rebecca Wallace—writing more recently in her book International Law (1986)—explains that a sovereign entity does not have to be a country, and that SMOM is an example of this. This position appears to be supported by the number of nations extending diplomatic relations to the Order, which more than doubled from 49 to 100 in the 20-year period to 2008. In 1953, the Holy See decreed that the Order of Malta's quality as a sovereign institution is functional, to ensure the achievement of its purposes in the world, and that as a subject of international law, it enjoys certain powers, but not the entire set of powers of sovereignty "in the full sense of the word." On 24 June 1961, Pope John XXIII approved the Constitutional Charter, which contains the most solemn reaffirmations of the sovereignty of the Order. Article 1 affirms that "the Order is a legal entity formally approved by the Holy See. It has the quality of a subject of international law." Article 3 states that "the intimate connection existing between the two qualities of a religious order and a sovereign order do not oppose the autonomy of the order in the exercise of its sovereignty and prerogatives inherent to it as a subject of international law in relation to States."
Currency and postage stamps
The SMOM coins are appreciated more for their subject matter than for their use as currency; SMOM postage stamps, however, have been gaining acceptance among Universal Postal Union member nations.
The SMOM began issuing euro-denominated postage stamps in 2005, although the scudo remains the official currency of the SMOM. Also in 2005, the Italian post agreed with the SMOM to deliver internationally most classes of mail other than registered, insured, and special-delivery mail; additionally 56 countries recognize SMOM stamps for franking purposes, including those such as Canada and Mongolia that lack diplomatic relations with the Order.
The Order states that it was the hospitaller role that enabled the Order to survive the end of the crusading era; nonetheless, it retains its military title and traditions.
On 26 March 1876 the Association of the Italian Knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (Associazione dei cavalieri italiani del sovrano militare ordine di Malta, ACISMOM) reformed the Order's military to a modern military unit of the era. This unit provided medical support to the Italian Army and on 9 April 1909 the military corp officially became a special auxiliary volunteer corps of the Italian Army under the name Corpo Militare dell'Esercito dell'ACISMOM (Army Military Corps of the ACISMOM), wearing Italian uniforms. Since then the Military Corps have operated with the Italian Army both in wartime and peacetime in medical or paramedical military functions, and in ceremonial functions for the Order, such as standing guard around the coffins of high officers of the Order before and during funeral rites.
I believe that it is a unique case in the world that a unit of the army of one country is supervised by a body of another sovereign country. Just think that whenever our staff (medical officers mainly) is engaged in a military mission abroad, there is the flag of the Order flying below the Italian flag.
In 1947, after the post-World War II peace treaty forbade Italy to own or operate bomber aircraft and only operate a limited number of transport aircraft, the Italian Air Force opted to transfer some of its Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 aircraft to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, pending the definition of their exact status (the SM.82 were properly long range transport aircraft that could be adapted for bombing missions). These aircraft were operated by Italian Air Force personnel temporarily flying for the Order, carried the Order's roundels on the fuselage and Italian ones on the wings, and were used mainly for standard Italian Air Force training and transport missions but also for some humanitarian tasks proper of the Order of Malta (like the transport of sick pilgrims to the Lourdes sanctuary). In the early '50s, when the strictures of the peace treaty had been much relaxed by the Allied authorities, the aircraft returned under full control of the Italian Air Force. One of the aircraft transferred to the Order of Malta, still with the Order's fuselage roundels, is preserved in the Italian Air Force Museum.
The Military Corps has become known in mainland Europe for its operation of hospital trains, a service which was carried out intensively during both World Wars. The Military Corps still operate a modern 28 cars hospital train with 192 hospital beds, serviced by a medical staff of 38 medics and paramedics provided by the Order and a technical staff provided by the Italian Army Railway Engineers Regiment.
Orders, decorations, and medals
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and its historical precursor, the Knights Hospitaller, and its current headquarters at the Palazzo Malta, feature prominently in the 2016 crypto-thriller The Apocalypse Fire by Dominic Selwood.