Saint John Of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitallers of the Order of (also called knights of Rhodes and knights of Malta), a religious and military order which originated in the middle of the 11th century. In 1048 permission was granted to a few merchants from Amalfi to build a chapel for Latin pilgrims near the holy sepulchre, and to connect with it two hospitals or hostelries, one for men and the other for women. The chapel, common at first to both sexes, was called St. Mary of the Latins; a second chapel attached soon afterward to the female hospital was called after St. Mary Magdalen. The hospital for men bore the name of St. John the Almoner, a native of Cyprus and patriarch of Alexandria (died about 616), who had sent money and provisions to Jerusalem in 614, after it had been sacked by Chosroes II. The service in the hospitals was performed by a confraternity of pilgrims of both sexes, under the direction of Gerard (called also Bienheu-reux Pierre Gerard and Gerard the Blessed), the whole establishment as well as the confraternity being called after St. John the Almoner. They displayed such heroic charity on the occasion of the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders, July 15, 1099, that several noble knights, among them Raymond du Puy or del Puich, joined them as hospitallers.
Godfrey de Bouillon bestowed on them the lordship of Montboire in Brabant, and other princes imitated his example. When peace was restored to the city, Gerard and his associates bound themselves to labor for ever in the hospitals "as the servants of the poor and of Christ," and the members of both sexes assumed for their distinctive habit the black robe of the Augustinians, with a white linen cross of eight points on the left breast. The order was approved by Pope Paschal II., Feb. 15, 1113, under the appellation of "Brothers Hospitallers of St. John in Jerusalem." Extensive additions were made to the original establishments, and a magnificent new church was erected to St. John the Baptist on the traditional site of his parents' abode. Gerard then took the title of guardian and provost of the order, and built for the accommodation of pilgrims hospitals in the chief maritime towns of western Europe, which afterward became com-manderies of the order. Gerard died in 1118, and was succeeded by Raymond du Puy, who, to protect the Christians of Jerusalem and the bands of pilgrims against the Moslems, armed himself and his former brother knights among the hospitallers. This met with general approbation in Palestine and in Europe, and attracted to the order the elite of the young nobility.
To their original and common monastic vows the hospitallers now added a solemn vow of bearing arms in defence of Christendom, and of defending all Christians from insult and wrong. Raymond du Puy divided the order into knights, priests, and brothers servants. There also grew up a numerous intermediate class of sergeants (old Fr. serfgents, serving men) or half knights, who rendered important services in the field and the infirmary, and were in course of time assigned separate com-manderies. As the new church of St. John the Baptist quite eclipsed the former modest chapel, the order under its new organization was called after St. John the Baptist. Raymond exchanged the title of guardian for that of master; the title of grand master was first assumed by Hugues de Revel in 1267. Raymond du Puy drew up constitutions based on the Au-gustinian rule, which together with the other changes in the order were approved by Pope Calixtus II. in 1120. The great influx of members caused the order to be divided according to nationalities or "languages," there being at first seven languages, those of Provence, Au-vergne, France, Italy, Aragon, Germany, and England, to which were added subsequently the languages of Castile and Portugal. Du Puy during his period of office delivered from the Moslems the principality of Antioch, raised the siege of Jaffa, and aided powerfully in the fall of Tyre, besides driving the enemy from Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, and contributing to the fall of Ascalon in 1153. The fame of these services brought them numerous valuable gifts, which soon proved detrimental to their efficiency.
In 1168 the grand master Gilbert d'Assalit and a majority of the knights were bribed by Amaury, king of Jerusalem, to engage in an expedition against Egypt, in violation of a solemn treaty. In 1187 the order was nearly annihilated by Saladin in the battle of Tiberias. After the fall of Jerusalem it was established at the castle of Margat (the present Markab), the female branch of the order retiring to Europe. The knights were involved in disputes and hostilities with the templars, to the damage of both orders; but they continued to serve valiantly against the infidels. At the battle of Gaza, in 1244, both orders were nearly exterminated by the Kharesmians. When Acre fell into the hands of the Saracens (1291), the hospitallers removed to Limisso in Cyprus, where they were recruited by drafts on the European commanderies. In this insular residence originated their naval character, as their vessels conveyed pilgrims to the Holy Land. This led to sea fights, in which the brethren became as distinguished as they had been on land.
They seized Rhodes in 1309, fortified it, and held it for more than two centuries against the utmost power of the Turks, and were hence called knights of Rhodes. Of the two memorable sieges they sustained there, the first, in 1480, under the grand master D'Aubusson, proved disastrous to the besiegers, and the second, under L'Isle-Adam, in 1522, after a heroic defence of six months, ended in the defeat of the knights and their evacuating the island. After taking refuge successively in Candia, Messina, and the mainland of Italy, they were in 1530 put in possession of the islands of Gozo and Malta and the city of Tripoli by the emperor Charles V. Malta, which the knights made one of the strongest places in the world, became thenceforward the bulwark of Christendom, and gave its name to the order. The Turks made a fruitless attack on the island in 1551, and renewed it in 1565, with an armament calculated to command success; but the grand master, Jean Parisot de la Valette, after four months of incredible endurance, forced the besiegers to depart. This defence raised the fame of the order to its height.
They held Malta till June, 1798, when it was taken by Bonaparte, the grand master Hompesch having abdicated and been sent to Trieste. (See Hompesch.) Since this event the order has existed only in name. It was protected for a time by the emperor Paul I. of Russia, whose reported conversion to the Roman Catholic church caused him to be chosen grand master. The seat of the order was removed to Catana in 1801, to Ferrara in 1826, and to Rome in 1834. A fruitless attempt to restore it was made in 1850. Since 1805 the order has been administered by a lieutenant and a college residing in Rome.