Kolossi Castle, Cyprus

Cyprus

Henry of Lusignan, King of Cyprus had joined the Hospitallers and Templars in the defence of Acre and, when the city fell to Saracens on 18 May 1291, he sailed back to Cyprus taking with him the few survivors of the two Orders. The Hospitallers had already acquired some property on the island and here they set up their headquarters building a castle at Kolossi.

They settled in Cyprus for only eighteen years but here they took a far reaching decisions which was to play a significant part in the Order's subsequent growth. The Knights' new home on an island made them realise that they needed more than a strong land militia. Supremacy in the Mediterranean could only be achieved by supremacy at sea. A fleet of galleys was immediately commissioned and very soon sorties were made to the now Muslim occupied coast of Outremer with no practical outcome other than to gain useful maritime experience which was to serve the Order well in the future.

In 1301 an important administrative step was also taken in Cyprus. Up to that time the knights coming from all nationalities had already been divided into seven Tongues or Langues but they all lived together in one Inn or Auberge. The Chapter that year decreed that the seven Langues would each have its own Auberge, headed by a Pilier, to house the members of that Langue.

Meanwhile two factors decided the Order to take steps to seek a permanent home wherein it would be in a position to exercise sovereign power. As it began to regain its strength with the infusion of new knights after its virtual decimation at Acre, the Order sought to enlarge its Convent in Cyprus. Henry of Lusignan however, justifiably concerned that a strong Order could threaten the integrity of his kingdom, turned the request down.

More alarmingly, events in France alerted the Hospitallers to the dangers they faced if they continued to depend on a sovereign power for their very existence. Having already sequestered the assets of the Jews, Philip IV of France turned his greedy eyes on the wealth and possessions of the Templars. The Templars who were also based on Cyprus were summoned by the Pope, then at Avignon for a council to plan a crusade. They arrived in France in 1307 with their treasure and were trapped by the king. He arrested the Grandmaster, Jacques de Molay together with some 60 knights and hundreds of their retinue, accusing them of several crimes on trumped up charges, to which many confessed under torture. They were all found guilty, most burnt at the stake and all their property confiscated. With its dissolution by the Pope in 1312, the Order of the Temple was no more.

Fearful of suffering a similar fate, the Hospitallers began to look around for a place where they would not have to bow to a superior authority and their eyes fell on the island of Rhodes, which although nominally under the hands of the Byzantine Emperor at the time, was more a refuge for pirates and buccaneers. Ostensibly to remove the malefactors from the island, the Hospitallers started a campaign of conquest which culminated with the capture of the city of Rhodes in August 1309 when the Seat was transferred from Cyprus.

Further reading:
Foster, Michael John: A Short History of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Part One. The Order of St John of Jerusalem until 1798