chapter  5
Spectacle and ‘Civil liturgies’ in Malta during the time of the Knights of St. John
WithVicki Ann Cremona
Pages 20

The advent of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem to the Maltese islands in 1530 marks the beginning of a new cultural era for the country. The inhabitants found themselves suddenly surrounded by men coming from the best noble families in Europe, who arrived rather unwillingly at first. 1 However, once they had settled down to the idea of staying, the Knights transformed cultural life in Malta, by introducing customs and habits which prevailed in cultured societies across Europe. French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Germans and other foreigners came to Malta bearing the ways of life of the courts and palaces they were used to living in. The intermingling of these different aristocratic backgrounds on the island produced a unique cultural blend which did not identify with any single, national tendency, but which was tinged with a particular pan-European hue. However, the individual cultures present in Malta maintained their specific identity. Each kept its own language, and in fact the various langues were housed in separate auberges, had different coats-of-arms, and often provided their own entertainment, at least until the first theatre was built in the eighteenth century. Yet all participated together as one body in public happenings, which like in other parts of Europe, were characterized by dazzling spectacle, calculated to overwhelm. These ‘civil liturgies’, a term coined by Jean Duvignaud in opposition to ‘religious liturgies’, provided a rallying ground, as well as an instrument for domination. 2 This particular confrontation of high level cultures, which supported and protected individual autonomy while at the same time exposing the various cultures to the influence of one another, necessarily left its mark on all levels of everyday life. It is this aspect which distinguishes Malta of the Knights from the rest of Europe. To date, however, no real attempt to acknowledge the issue or tackle the questions it raises has been made.