|A lord of Perillos and the Order of Malta|
The Order of Malta offers a multitude of elements of a rich and remarkable importance in history in general and the Mediterranean in particular. It should come as a major surprise to find that the small village of Perillos and its lords would be able to contribute to this important organisation, heirs of the Knights Templar, and to this day linked with the highest political and Vatican offices.
The island of Malta
The island’s occupation goes very far back, with impressive megalithic
remains, of which the Hagar Qim is the most famous. Towards the 9th century
BC, Phoenicians settled on the islands, contemporary with the city of Carthage
on the African shore of the Mediterranean Sea. However, the Phoenicians
did not leave many remains behind, unlike the Greeks, who established a
capital in modern Mdina, and remained there from the 7th till the 5th century
BC. In 218 BC, the Romans colonised the islands. A series of invasions,
from Vandals, Goth and Byzantines ran over the isles, until the arrival
of an Arab settlement in 870 AD. In 1090, the territory passed under the
authority of the king of Naples, Charles d’Anjou. The Aragonese established
custody of the site in 1283, but surrendered it to the crown of Castille
In 1530, Charles Quint gave Malta to the order of the Knights Hospitallers, who had been installed on the island of Rhodes from 1308 until 1522. The introduction of the order on the island resulted in a cultural and commercial revival. The “Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem” would maintain its nickname of the “Order of Malta” from 1530 onwards.
In 1565, there was a formidable siege of the island by Soliman the Magnicifent, but the knights, under the command of their Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette, were able to push back the Turkish troops. As a memory to the Grand Master’s effort, the city that was built on the peninsula of Sciberras was named after him: Valetta. Today, it remains the capital of the islands.
In 1798, Bonaparte passed by Malta on his expedition to Egypt. Curiously, the knights abandoned the island without any fighting. Two years later, the English occupied the islands and remained its rulers until the Treaty of Paris in 1814. The Second World War (1939-1945) left a path of extreme violence behind on the island, particularly between June 1940 and November 1942. Malta would remain a colony of the British crown until 1947, with Malta obtaining its formal independence in 1964.
The Order of Malta
order has been known under many names and nicknames: The Hospitallers of
St John of Jerusalem were also known as the Knights of Rhodes and most recently
as the Knights of Malta. Like other crusader orders, their primary purpose
originated with the protection of valuables and pilgrimage – i.e.
general safety – for those crossing to Palestine. The foundation of
the order is believed to have occurred in approximately 1070 AD.
In Jerusalem, merchants of Amalfi decided to build houses for lodgings and a monastery close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Hospital of St John the Baptist was founded in 1048 AD. The monastery was run by Benedictine monks. Their position was confirmed by Godefroy of Bouillon in 1099, with the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders.
The monks’ leader, Brother Gérard, obtained a constitution from pope Pascal II in 1113, which allowed for the creation of a religious order of knighthood. The first Grand Master of this military order was Raymond de Puy, who had the rule of the order confirmed by Pope Calistus II in 1120.
Villiers de l'Isle-Adam
The order was now set to make its monumental rise. The history of the order is full of its heroic feats, its sacrifices and its bravery. At the same time, the order began to accumulate significant wealth, territory, troops and a fleet. In 1130, the order obtained its heraldic banner.
the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291 announced problematic tidings
for all chivalrous orders in Palestine. The Hospitallers were driven to
the island of Cyprus and in 1309, they invested in, and took possession
of, the island of Rhodes. Some have speculated whether the Hospitallers,
who in 1307 took all Templar possessions into their custody, used the Templars’
wealth to buy the island of Rhodes. The order was able to make its own currency,
name its bishop and soon transformed itself in a type of “international
Despite valiant efforts (with crushing victories in 1310 and 1480), the order did not manage to hold off the Turkish attacks and had to capitulate in 1522. It was at that time that Charles Quint donated them the island of Malta, where the knights, under the orders of their Grand Master Isle-Adam, settled.
The church of St John
The Co-cathedral of St John the Baptist is the most remarkable church of Valetta. Located on one side of a busy square, the façade of the structure doe not overly impress – that is left to its interior. The building was the work of Girdamo Cassar and built on the ratio of 3:8, the “Golden rule of Alberti”, which was a proportion used by religious architects to express rebirth.
One of the most striking aspects of the interior of the church is the floor itself. Instead of the normal type of paving, all the surfaces of the naves and the side chapels (except the sanctuary) are richly decorated with tombstones -375 in total, mostly belonging to Grand Masters and knights of the orders. Each of is depicted with the occupant’s heraldic devices and a phrase that is unique to him.
Arms of the Chapel of Aragon
Let us focus our attention towards the vault of Aragon, belonging to the “Language of Spain”. On the floor, there are the stones of the nine masters of the Order that came from Aragon. On the right stands the mausoleum of Ramon Perelles y Roccaful, Grand Master from 1697 until 1720.
The mausoleum of Ramon Perellos
are many mausoleums in this church, but this one is probably one of the
largest and most elaborate. Like all other, this mausoleum depicts the heraldic
device. But whereas most others are generally rather discrete, Ramon’s
is quite to the contrary. The monument goes up to the cornice of the side
chapel, making it one of the tallest monuments in the church. Everything
is carved in four types of marble: black green, white and purple. The allegorical
characters that are depicted, as well as the blazons and all other accessories
are in alabaster. There is no other natural or artificial colouring in the
At the centre, in an oval medallion, made of purple marble, is a bronze bust of Ramon, shown with the long wig worn by the dignitaries of his time. There are also two female characters: the one on the left nursing a child symbolises generosity, the one on the right depicted with a bronze balance illustrates justice. Between these two depictions, under the bust of Ramon, a cherub holds a “beam of justice”.
the three characters is a type of Baroque tomb, made of black marble. Under
each of the two volutes, a human skull with white wings resides, symbolising
On top of this medallion rests the bust of Ramon, surrounded by three banners on each side, surmounted by an enormous blazon, of immaculate white, with a crown on top. It is on this blazon that the armorial bearings of Perillos appear twice. This allows us to identify that Ramon de Perellos, or Perellas, though differently spelt, is indeed a lord of Perillos.
format of the blazon is of a type that is not well-known or used. Let us
also observe that no colouring was applied to the blazon, which is a very
rare exception. The blazon is divided into four parts. It is in the bottom
left that we can identify the three pears of Perillos, depicted exactly
as on hte heraldic device of the village: two on top, a third below.
Still, it should be noted that the blazon is not coloured, which is rare. Also, the blazon is stamped (surmounted) by a crown, which symbolises that the possessor was a count… Ramon Perellos y Roccaful was therefore a count.
let us observe the bottom of the mausoleum, made out of alabaster. At the
foot of the “tomb”, one can distinguish the mouths of a French
canon and artillery instruments.
The entire construct is the work of Giuseppe Mazzuoli (1644-1725), an Italian sculptor who studied under Dosso Dossi. The statue of the Baptism of Christ by St John the Baptist behind the altar was also sculptured by Mazzuoli. The interesting fact about this statue is that, although one sees two figures, they are in fact hewn out of one big solid marble block.
A precious treasure of the church is the series of large tapestries, on display in the museum next to the church. The museum is a collection of wealth: crockery, relics, paintings, and these “Flemish tapestries”. The series consists of 14 panels measuring 6 by 6 metres, and 14 panels measuring 1.80 by 6.60 metres. These were commissioned by Ramon Perellos y Roccaful and delivered in 1702, a gift of the Grand Master to the church of St John the Baptist.
One of the tapestries ordered by Ramon for decoration of the Church of St John
The square panels are divided into two allegorical series:
1. The Annunciation, the Navity of Jesus, Worship of the Magi, the Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Rise of the Cross, the Resurrection.
2. The Institution of the Corpus Christi, the Triumph of Charity, the Triumph of the Catholic Church, the Triumph of Faith, Time reveals Truth, the Destruction of Idolatry, the Four Evangelists.
The long panels represent Christ the Saviour, the Virgin Mary, the eleven Apostles (Judas is excluded) and St Paul.
All tapestries were woven from “cartons” (designs) of the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, except two: the Last Supper is based on a design of Nicolas Poussin, as well as the portrait of Ramon himself, which was the work of Pattia Preti or Alessio Erardi. Preti was the man who painted the vault of St John’s; he is also a notable exception in that he was buried inside the church. Finally, we should note that the stamp of Ramon is now no longer that of count, but of Marquis…
There is another depiction of Ramon, once again without any colouring. Ramon is barefooted, wearing a type of toga which envelopes him. Certain experts believe he is represented in this way to resemble John the Baptist, patron saint of the cathedral and the order. Underneath is a depiction of the blazon of Ramon, but this time, it has been coloured. Once again he is identified as a Marquis.
A man for all hours
It is clear that Ramon was very generous towards Malta and the Order: the tapestries, but also the construction of other buildings on the island attest to his spending. De Lapalisse thus argued that this man was exceptionally rich. All the works he engineered must have cost a small fortune. The spend on such extravaganza is normally a small percentage of a man’s personal wealth, thus his assumption of Ramon’s colossal means. The question should be asked though where that money came from. His title to the grounds of Perillos definitely would not have given him a rich territorial income. Where did his wealth originate from, also knowing that he bought the title of Perellos – the official family line since having become extinct.
Secondly, the title of Grand Master was not granted to anyone. The recipient had to be of the utmost nobility, distinguished, often having displayed undeniable political power or prowess, of independent financial means and finally being able to fulfil the job to everyone’s satisfaction. This suggests that Ramon’s career was not limited to remaining in Perillos, but instead occurred elsewhere, in the courts of the European monarchs.
is one final detail that is disconcerting about this man. Almost all Grand
Masters have their tombs on the floor of the church of St John. But amongst
the 375 flagstones, nowhere is that of the famous Ramon Perelles y Roccaful
to be located. As a result, we note that Ramon had his mausoleum, but not
his tomb in this church.
The official history of the order does not explain this absence. All specialists address the problem with a constrained silence – rather than replace it with an argued assumption. It is clear that as a Grand Master he would have been entitled to be buried on the site – in fact, he would have been expected to be buried there. But for some reason, which has gone unexplained, his tomb is not there. The question needs to be asked whether he instead preferred the peaceful and nostalgic setting of his family vault – which would locate his body in Perillos. There is little if no evidence to suggest that did occur, but if not there – then where?