Saturday, January 9, 2010

Constantinian Order of St. George

A previous post mentioned an institution which, as it happens, was not described in much detail on Best of Sicily. The Constantinian Order of St George is an order of knighthood (and charitable organization) of the dynasty that ruled Sicily from 1734 until 1860. Over drinks a few days ago, one of our history writers made the point that Malta was a feudal dependency of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (as the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily came to be called) until 1798, and that there is still a close relationship between the Royal House of Bourbon of the Two Sicilies and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta long after either has ceased to rule. I knew this but I have to admit it isn't something I think about every day, and it is kind of obscure.

As institutions, both orders of chivalry are very old. The Constantinian Order was founded some time before 1550 and the Order of Malta around 1100. Sadly, 2008 saw the passing of Prince Ferdinando de Bourbon, Head of the House of the Two Sicilies (and a direct descendant of the last kings of Sicily), and Frà Andrew Bertie, Grand Master of the Order of Malta for two decades. They were succeeded by Prince Carlo de Bourbon and Frà Matthew Festing, whose photograph accompanying the article seems more than fitting considering that each is beginning what we hope will be a long tenure.

It this information seems too esoteric, get a copy of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel The Leopard or a DVD of the film starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale. It'll place all of this in perspective. Or visit the orders' websites: OrderOfMalta.Org or RealCasaDiBorbone.It. The point is that Sicily has some very old, traditional organizations involved very actively in philanthropy.

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