Rare historical book, banned by the Vatican, donated to Heritage Malta

The rare volume was donated by an Irish couple who wanted it returned to its spiritual home. Photo: Heritage Malta.

A rare historical volume dating to 1728, banned by the Vatican when first published, has been donated to Heritage Malta by an Irish couple.

Patrick and Anne Hegarty donated a copy of the first volume of the series Histoire des Chevaliers Hospitaliers Saint-Jean de Jérusalem, translated into English, originally published by the Abbé René Aubert de Vertot in 1726.

Only a few copies of this volume are in circulation since it was banned by the Vatican due to its anti-Papist content.

“My father Jack was an avid collector of antiques, especially of old Irish silver, porcelain and artworks,” Mr Hegarty said.

“He loved going around antique shops with his friends on Saturday mornings in search of that something special. This rare historical volume was one of his discoveries, probably around 60 years ago.

“I decided to donate this book to Heritage Malta because I believe that it belongs here in Malta. That’s where its spiritual home is. There is no point in keeping it in a house in Ireland where nobody gets to see it.

“At least in this way, it can be enjoyed by the Maltese people and by all those who come to visit this Museum.”

Abbé René Aubert de Vertot was a provincial clergyman who was commissioned by the Order of St John to serve as its chronicler in order to formulate the history of the Order from its humble beginnings in Jerusalem up to the year of publication of the book.I believe that it belongs here in Malta. That’s where its spiritual home is.

In his writing, he provides a lively account of the history of the Order of St John, from its earliest beginnings to the conclusion of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, supplemented by succinct Annals of the Order up to the year 1725.

Vertot spent 13 years compiling all the information to work on this book. However, in the end, the final result shocked the Church.

In the course of the 600-year description, he discussed the formation and expansion of the Templars, their rivalry with the Hospitallers, and their eventual dissolution.

He explained the rise of the Turks and of Mahometanism and referred to the heroism and barbarism of warfare and sieges.

Moreover, he focused on the corruption and greed of many of the popes and cardinals.

The anti-papist statements in the book attracted the outrage of the Inquisition, leading to the work being banned by the Vatican. Yet it was this prohibition which made the book even more popular and successful.

Malta Maritime Museum’s principal curator, Liam Gauci, thanked Francis Spiteri Paris for spearheading this donation to Heritage Malta.

“Our Maltese national collection have been enriched further with this prestigious donation which will be exhibited at the Order of St John’s section of the Malta Maritime Museum in Birgu.”

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