The exhibition opens with document from king Baldwin 1 of Jerusalem dated 1107 transferring lands to the Hospital of St. John. This is one of the oldest documents at The National Library.
On display till 2nd August are incunabula and books showing hand drawn maps, beautiful parchments with property rights, the original papal bull exempting the knights from paying tithes and other privileges, and full hand-written accounts of the events of the siege of Rhodes, which led to the order seeking refuge in Malta.
This historic milestone is documented in a lengthy letter from Grand Master L’isle Adam to Charles V of Spain, accepting Malta, Gozo and Tripoli for the order, the deed is on display, showing the folds in their specific manner to further encode its authenticity.
The life of the knights is well documented, from the family trees which were presented with specific individuals coats of arms, to enter the order to musings, thoughts, medical books, trade and the movements of individuals as well as council meetings and market ledgers.Statutes, privileges and proceedings are all documented in detail, drawings and illustrations with impossible detail, lined to show texture of fabrics, colour coding to suggest wealth and positioning of object, much like in religious art, to show ones leaning and stature.
Capturing the essence if Malta at that time is a book of works by Vincenzo Fenech, showcasing people from nuns to Pastizzi sellers, fishermen and noble men. This is a prize, but for me, the most stunning pieces are the books of hours with gold lettering and coloured illuminated text, encouraging prayer.
Those with medical, religious or an interesting ships would enjoy this exhibition and the detail captured by the knights and scholars if the day. These works are the tip of the iceberg in a library that houses 750,000 books; most of which are bequeathed by the order of the knights of St John as decreed on entry to the order. Indeed, details of these bequests are also held at the library. Mattia Preti’s drawings are here too as are engravings showing Grand Masters, maps and a single choral book whose detail and vivid colour is breathtaking.
Of interest to architects and theatrical types are the original plans of the Manoel theatre. A fabulous book showing layered plans of the manoel theatre in open at this specific page. There is also a collection of unique letters penned by the royalty and nobility of the day, congratulating, informing and sharing condolences with the Grand Masters during their tenure of Malta & Gozo.
Ending the exhibition are books and documents explaining the last days of rule and showing the agreement with Russia for the Order to move there after their expulsion by Napoleon, where TsarPaul 1 was ordained as Grand Master in 1798. Although Napoleon had declared all documents of the knights be destroyed, these were thankfully saved, and alongside one can see diaries of Napoleon’s brief stay and much grovelling and obvious humiliation of Hompesch, who is widely criticised for allowing the French invasion, even with significant warning and defences available.