The Catholic University of America

Rare Books and Special Collections


Malta Collection


The Rare Books department’s Malta collection includes works about the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, as well as materials documenting the history of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Among the first of the medieval military orders, the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, as they were originally known, was founded around 1070 to care for sick pilgrims to the Holy Land and provide them with military protection. In this dual role the Knights of St. John were responsible for building both hospices and fortifications. After Jerusalem was captured by Saladin in 1187, the knights moved to the island of Rhodes, and thence to their final base on the island of Malta, a gift of Emperor Charles V. They held the island from 1530 until it was seized in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

With its neolithic monuments, Malta is the site of a very ancient civilization, evidenced by archeological ruins of great significance. It is also the home since ca. 60 A.D. of one of Christianity’s earliest communities. The Acts of the Apostles records the shipwreck which cast Saint Paul ashore on Malta, his stay on the island where he evangelized the Roman colony,and the miracles he performed, including the famous incident in which he survived unharmed the bite of a poisonous snake.

Strategically located near Sicily, Malta has been overrun by several cultures in succession, the Romans, the Arabs (who gave Malta its indigenous language), the Normans (from whom the design of the Maltese flag derives) and, after the departure of the Knights in 1798, the French and British. In recent times it was subjected to two years of intensive bombardment by Axis forces during World War II, a period fictionalized in Nicholas Monsarrat’s novel The Kapillan of Malta.

CUA’s Malta collection was first shaped by the 1950s benefactions of Foster Stearns (1881-1956), librarian, military attaché and, from 1939 to 1945, congressman from New Hampshire. Many of the collection’s books and manuscripts are devoted to the order’s earliest papal privileges, the knights’ history on Rhodes, and the pivotal 1565 siege of Malta. The 1999 gift of the Carol Saliba collection of manuscript letters and documents sheds light on the Order’s attempts to remain relevant after the Napoleonic conquest of Malta and to find a new base for their naval operations. Most of the Foster Stearns collection is cataloged and accessible through the WRLC Catalog. Both of these collections are the focus of a planned digitization project to be carried out in collaboration with the Malta Study Center of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library.



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