Report from the Annual Register of the Order
of St John of Jerusalem.
Source: Hardman, William, of Valetta, A history of Malta during the period of the French and British occupations, 1798-1815, by the late William Hardman. Ed. with an introduction and notes by J. Holland Rose. Longmans, Green, and co., London, New York, 1909, page 387.
While His Russian Majesty exerted his whole authority and influence to rouse
a general attack on the French Republic, he received into his protection
those who had suffered from its tyranny and oppression. He extended his
protection and munificent patronage to the dispersed and ejected Knights
of Malta. The Grand Bailiff, the Grand Cross, and other distinguished members
of this Order assembled at St. Petersburg in October 1798, elected the Emperor
Grand Master of their Order. His Majesty, who is said to have solicited,
accepted this dignity and exercised its prerogatives, in conferring with
great pomp and solemnity the different degrees, titles, and offices of the
Order on various persons of distinction. Count Litta, envoy extraordinary
from the Pope, and the Prince Terra Capriola, envoy from Naples, were honoured
with the Grand Cross. A new institution, under the name of a Grand Priory,
was established at St.Petersburg in favour of the Knights of Malta, and endowed
with an annual revenue of 216,000 roubles. This was to serve as a residence
and rallying place for all the Knights.
The motives assigned by His Imperial Majesty for this act of munificence, were a regard to the common cause of Christianity and Christendom to which the illustrious Knights of Malta had been so eminently subservient, to preserve that Order, and to enable them to recover the possessions that had been ravished from them by injustice and violence, and to add a new incitement to the loyalty and bravery of the Russian nobles, by the hope of being admitted, in consequence of signalised merit, into the illustrious fraternity of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.
From this Order no person of noble descent and otherwise properly qualified according to the rules of the Order of any country in Christendom was to be interdicted. To the ancient and standing laws of the Order His Majesty added a number of regulations respecting his own new foundation.
The ukase for this establishment was accompanied by a proclamation, declaring that any gentleman of any Christian country, duly qualified, might be received as a Knight of St. John in the Imperial residence of St. Petersburg, and reside there, in that character, and enjoy the Emperor's favour and protection.
'We flatter ourselves (says His Majesty) that having through Divine Providence and hereditary right come to the Imperial throne of our ancestors, we have it in our power to protect, maintain, and even increase and extend the splendour of an Order so ancient and renowned among the orders of chivalry, convinced that by such a conduct we shall render an important service to the universe. The laws and regulations of this Order inspire a love of virtue, form good morals, strengthen the bonds of subordination, and present a powerful remedy against the present mania for innovation and the unbridled licentiousness of thought. Finally, this Order is a medium for augmenting the power, security, and glory of states.' The Emperor in February 1799 sent a note to all the foreign Ministers resident at St. Petersburg, requesting them to make known to their respective Courts, that he had accepted the title of Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of which St. Petersburg was henceforth to be the seat and the chief residence.
Orders were also issued to the Ministers of Russia not to receive any letters addressed to His Imperial Majesty, in which the title of Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem should be omitted.
On this new institution for the presentation of an ancient Order, although its patron and head was neither unmarried [n]or a Catholic, the aged, infirm, and unfortunate Pope, Pius VI, in the Monastery of Cassini near Florence, bestowed his approbation, sanction, and his paternal and apostolical benediction (in anticipation) on the 5th November 1798 ().
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