Hidden treasures

Archduke Frederick Ferdinand of Habsburg and the Grand Priory of the Knights of Malta in Venice

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Archduke Frederick Ferdinand of Habsburg and the Grand Priory of the Knights of Malta in Venice

Venice was for centuries the centre of Mediterranean life: crusaders, pilgrims, merchants, and preachers…they all passed through this incredible city on water.

We should not be surprised, therefore, that during the Middle Ages several knightly orders - the Templars, Teutonic, the Hospitallers of St John - created monasteries in Venice to help pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. The end of the Middle Ages led to the disappearance of all these orders, except for the Hospitallers of St John, since 1522 residents of the island of Malta.

If we take a walk through the Castello district, near St Mark's Square, we can see a small street where they say the Knights of Malta still reside: now they are dedicated to helping the sick and their pilgrimage to Lourdes.

The Knights of St John have been resident here since 1312, when they obtained from the pope the assets that were confiscated from the Templars. The Napoleonic suppression of 1806 marked a setback in their business. The Priory and the Knights church were secularized and used as social housing and warehouses. Only in 1842 did the Knights return to their ancient headquarters, thanks to the truly fascinating character of the Archduke of Austria, Friedrich Ferdinand of Habsburg, grandson of Emperor Ferdinand I.

Young, and in his early twenties, he came to Venice as admiral of the Imperial fleet and also because he was Knight of St John, he was very taken aback by the sad conditions of the old Priory. He therefore, begged the emperor's uncle to return the church and the Priory to the Knights and this is what happened.

Federico was very attached to the Priory of Venice. At the age of 26 he died in a room next to the church where he was later buried. The official chronicles speak of jaundice, but recent studies conducted by the historian Robert Dauber have revealed a very different story: in fact it is claimed that the Archduke had an affair with a woman who worked at the Priory, Maria Adelaide, 13 years older than him. The couple also had a daughter, Josephine, who was entrusted to a convent to avoid creating a scandal. But when the romance ended, Frederick decided to take his own life and he was found with his right hand clutching a poem dedicated to Mary Adelaide.

To retrace the footsteps of the various orders of chivalry which were based in Venice and to learn about their history and curious anecdotes related to their adherents, contact us for more information! Our guides will accompany you to discover the past of Venice with a private guided tour custom built  just for you!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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