I had always been aware of the white cross on a black background but was not so familiar with the history. The museum dedicated to the Sacra Infermeria was one of the most memorable and fascinating experiences during my stay in Malta.
It all started 900 years ago when a group of merchants from Italy formed a religious order in Jerusalem. over the years the order of St John provided help to travellers and pilgrims. They were eventually driven out of the Holy Land and came to Rhodes and then onto Malta. The Knights of St John played a vital role during the Great Siege of Malta and their skills were used to treat battle injuries.In 1574 the Sacra Infermeria was built and the long ward used by the Knights Hospitaller is now the longest hall in Europe.
“You must look,” smiled the man at the kiosk and I’m glad I did. Today it is hard to imagine the huge room full of beds but what a building. It is now the Mediterranean Conference Centre with two long halls and a theatre. But down the stairs is a different world- the museum that told the story of how the Knights Hospitaller worked.
I was fascinated to hear they used herbal remedies for many of the illnesses treated and Malta fungus was one of the principal ingredients. They used silver instruments due to the antiseptic properties of the metal.The Phalangue was a separate block used for contagious illnesses including venereal diseases. By the 17th century they were known for ophthalmic surgery too and there was also a school of anatomy.
I loved this museum and was intrigued by the way the Sacra Infermeria worked and the methods used. This to me was one of the highlights of my visit. Sadly the hospital was taken over by Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and deteriorated . But its legacy lives on and I thought of all those lives saved as I re entered the street above ground.