When The Knights of Malta Saved Christian Europe

September 8 commemorates the 450th anniversary of the end of the Siege of Malta by the Ottoman Turks in 1565. The Turks laid siege to Malta as a key ingredient of their plan to invade and take over Europe for Islam. The critical island of Malta in the Mediterranean provided then, as it did also in World War II,  a gateway to Italy and thus to the rest of Europe from the south. The Turks called Malta “this cursed rock” which functioned as “a barrier interposed between us and [our] possessions.” The English Queen Elizabeth aptly noted that had the siege of Malta been successful, “it is uncertain what further peril might follow to the rest of Christendom.”

Beginning in May of 1565, a Turkish fleet comprised of 200 vessels and 40,000 men at arms began their siege of the Knights of Malta’s island fortress. The Siege would last some four months, and cost the lives of 30,000 on the Turkish side, and 7000 of those fighting along with the Knights of Malta. By the end of the Siege, the 9000 defenders of the island were reduced to only 600 who were able to fight under the leadership of the Knights of Malta. The Knights themselves lost 250 of their 541 members and aides who defended the island, and those who lived were incapacitated for the rest of their lives.

The Battle of Malta was a bloody and vicious one on both sides. Knights who were captured were brutally tortured, and beheaded, with their trunks crucified and then floated out to the Mediterranean on their crosses. Turks who were captured were beheaded, and their severed heads used as cannonballs which were fired at the Turkish fleet.

Had Malta fallen to the Turks, the rest of Europe might have followed. Europe owed its temporal salvation then to the Knights of Malta and their Maltese comrades. While the Turks would try again to invade and conquer Europe, they were conclusively defeated six years later at the Battle of Lepanto where the Knights of Malta again played an important role.

When the Siege of Malta ended on September 8, 1565, the surviving Knights and the people of Malta celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving commemorating the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, a feast which continues to be celebrated today as well in Catholic churches throughout the world. The Knights of Malta worldwide also celebrate today the Feast Day of their patroness, Our Lady of Philermo, by attending masses and offering praise and thanksgiving to God and to Mary throughout the day.

While the Knights of Malta have put aside their swords, choosing instead to devote their efforts to defending the Catholic religion and assisting the poor and the sick through a worldwide network of hospitals and charitable endeavors, their past sacrifices of their blood and treasure must be remembered and praised by all, not only in Europe, but also throughout the world.


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