Rome, 11 March 2008.
Frà Matthew Festing, 59, an Englishman, becomes the 79th Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, elected this morning by the Council Complete of State (the Order’s electoral body). In accepting the role, the new Grand Master swore his Oath before the Cardinal Patronus of the Order, Cardinal Pio Laghi, and the electoral body. He succeeds Fra’Andrew Bertie, 78th Grand Master (1988-2008), who died on 7 February.
The new Grand Master affirms his resolve to continue the great work carried out by his predecessor. Fra’ Matthew comes with a wide range of experience in Order affairs. He has been the Grand Prior of England since the Priory’s re-establishment in 1993, restored after an abeyance of 450 years. In this capacity, he has led missions of humanitarian aid to Lebanon and Kosovo after the recent disturbances in those countries, and with a large delegation from Britain he attends the Order’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes with handicapped pilgrims.
Educated at Ampleforth and Trinity College Cambridge, where he read history, Frà Matthew, an art expert, has for most of his professional life worked at an international art auction house. As a child he lived in Malta and Singapore, where his father, Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, Chief of the Defence Staff, had earlier postings. His mother was a member of the recusant Riddells of Swinburne Castle who suffered for their faith in penal times. He is also descended from Sir Adrian Fortescue, a knight of Malta, who was martyred in 1539.
Frà Matthew served in the Grenadier Guards and holds the rank of colonel in the Territorial Army. He was appointed OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen and has served as her Deputy Lieutenant in the county of Northumberland for a number of years.
In 1977 Frà Matthew became a member of the Order of Malta, taking solemn religious vows in 1991.
As well as his passion for the decorative arts and for history, for which his encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of the Order is legendary, as is his very British sense of humour, Frà Matthew spends any free time possible in his beloved Northumberland countryside.
The Grand Master
According to the Order’s Constitution, the Grand Master, who is the sovereign and religious head of the Order, must fully dedicate himself to the development of the works of the Order and to set an example of living by Christian principles, to all the members of the Order. The Grand Master exercises supreme authority, together with the Sovereign Council. He holds the rank of cardinal in the Catholic Church.
The Grand Master resides at the Order’s seat of government in the Grand Magisterial palace, Via Condotti in Rome.
The Order of Malta
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta – founded in Jerusalem 960 years ago – is a sovereign subject of international law and a religious order of the Catholic Church. It has bilateral diplomatic relations with 100 States, the Holy See and the Italian Republic among them, 18 official representations and permanent observer status at the United Nations, the European Union and numerous international organizations.
The Order has a permanent presence in 54 countries, with 12 Grand Priories and Sub-Priories and 47 national Associations, as well as numerous hospitals, medical centres, day care centres, first aid corps, and specialist foundations, which operate in 120 countries.
Its 12,500 members and 80,000 volunteers and over 13,000 medical personnel – doctors, nurses and paramedics – are dedicated to the care of the poor, the sick and all those who suffer.
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