President Charles de Brosses happily wrote to Monsieur de Neuilly: "The health of the Pope (Clement XII) is going from bad to worse; he is unlikely to live much longer." (Lettres familières écrites d'Italie en 1739 et 1740 - XLIX).
The death of the pope was regarded by most XVIIIth century travellers as an opportunity to watch solemn funerary ceremonies,
rather than a reason for mourning.
Today the Roman Catholic Church, especially after the changes introduced by Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), emphasizes the spiritual aspects of these ceremonies, rather than the spectacular ones.
The flavour of the past still pervades the funerals of the Grand Masters of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and Malta. On February 7, 2008 Fra' Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie, Grand Master of the Order for the last twenty years, passed away in Rome.
The funeral took place on February 16. Maybe because the day was a sunny one with almost an anticipation of spring, the ceremony was a relatively joyous social event; an occasion for many people to show how glad they were to meet friends they had not seen for a long time.
S. Maria del Priorato, the church of the Order next to Palazzo Magistrale, was not large enough to accommodate the Knights, the representatives of the Catholic Church and those of the diplomatic corps who were invited to the funeral, so the ceremony took place in S. Sabina. For the occasion the Holy See took care of the arrangements by sending crimson kneelers and chairs.
XIXth century uniforms of the Order
For centuries, especially when the Order was in charge of defending
Rhodes and Malta, its military role took precedence over its charitable mission. In 1522 the Knights surrendered Rhodes to Sultan Suleyman; in 1530 they were given the island of Malta and the Libyan town of Tripoli by Emperor Charles V. The latter was lost in 1551, while Malta was retained notwithstanding an Ottoman siege in 1565.
In 1571 the Knights took part in the Battle of Lepanto. In 1645 they attacked an Ottoman
convoy on its way from Alexandria to Constantinople
and brought the loot (including part of the Sultan's harem returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca) to Candia (which was a Venetian possession).
This act led to a war between the Ottoman Empire and Venice which lasted 24 years.
In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Malta and the Knights were forced to leave the island.
The uniforms of the platoon in charge of the military honours were most likely designed after 1834 when the Order settled in Rome. They are more evocative of an operetta than of a battle.
Officers of the Italian Army (left) and Carabinieri (centre/right)
A more convincing military component of the attendance was ensured by the Italian Army; there were many good-humoured high-level officers and a few Carabinieri, whose grand uniform is particularly suited for funerals.
(left to right) The alley leading to S. Maria del Priorato; a Dame of the Order; the arrival of Cardinal Angelo Sodano
The Order has opened its ranks to female members (Dames of the Order), who however cannot be part
of the highest of the three classes of membership (Knights of Justice).
The importance attached by the Catholic Church to the event was testified by the presence of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Dean of the Cardinals; he arrived at the ceremony in a Mercedes with the plate of the Holy See (SCV= Stato della Città del Vaticano).
Degrees and decorations of the Knights
The Malta Cross (which you can see also in the image used as background for this page) with the addition of various decorations indicates the degrees of the members; as a rule of thumb a more complex embroidery reflects a higher rank.
The procession at S. Alessio
The procession from S. Maria del Priorato to S. Sabina followed almost the same itinerary as that which takes place on Ash Wednesday with the participation of the Pope.
The coffin reaches S. Sabina
The coffin was preceded by Cardinal Pio Laghi, patron of the Order. In the 1990s he was regarded as a leading candidate to replace ailing Pope John Paul II, but his ten years as nuncio in Argentina and his alleged endorsement of the 1976 military coup weakened his chances of becoming pope.
Members of the charitable activities lead the procession returning to S. Maria del Priorato
Following its historic mission to help the sick, the Order of Malta operates in many countries: it has relief organizations and hospital and medical programmes. In Rome it runs a hospital at Castello della Magliana.
The Knights follow their Grand Master on his last journey
Five cardinals (with four more in attendance) officiated at the ceremony held in S. Sabina. A special prayer made reference to the role of the Grand Master as Defender of the Faith - Defensor Fidei (Religionem catholicam, apostolicam, romanam, firmiter colam ac adversus impietatem strenue defendam). The ceremony ended with the choir singing Libera me Domine from Transitus Animae, an oratory by Lorenzo Perosi. Then the coffin returned to S. Maria del Priorato where the Grand Master was laid to rest.
The coffin returns to S. Maria del Priorato
Four Catholic Orders were involved in the ceremony: the Order of Malta; the Order of St. Benedict (the choir accompanying the prayers); the Order of St. Dominic (owners of S. Sabina); the Order founded by St. Jerome Emiliani known as Somaschi Fathers (their monastery at S. Alessio was along the procession itinerary).
The choir of the Benedictines of S. Anselmo and other cardinals and high prelates
Other Days of Peace pages:
A Sunny Day in Villa Borghese
At the Flea Market
At the Beach
Voicing Your Views ..... and feeling better
Christmas in Rome
Celebrating the Foundation of Rome
A visit to Roseto di Roma
The procession of La Madonna de Noantri
Running the Marathon
Watching the Parade
Finding Solace at the Protestant Cemetery
Attending 2007 July Events
Rome's Sleepless Night
Attending Winter Ceremonies
Jogging at Valle delle Camene
Sailing on the River to see the Bridges of Roma
An October Outing to Marino
A Special Spring Weekend
Embassy-hunting in Parioli
Celebrating Eritrean Michaelmas in Rome
Visiting Rome at Dawn
Visiting Rome in the Moonlight
Visiting Rome on a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus
Visiting Multi-ethnic Rome
Playing in the Snow at the Janiculum
Watching the Pride Parade
Visiting the Movie Sets at Cinecittà
Reading Memoirs of Hadrian at Villa Adriana
Looking up at the Ceilings of the Vatican Palaces
Reading Seneca at the Baths
Spending the Last Roman Day at St. John Lateran's Cloister
Reading Ovid at St. Peter's
Walking the Dog at Valle della Caffarella
Keeping up with new discoveries at Museo Ninfeo