Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta

The private residence of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta is set down high above the Ligurian Sea on a rocky promontory near Rapallo and within view of the mouth of Portofino harbor.A Maltese Cross flies from the battlements of Villa Pagana, or Villa Malta, as the residents have actually called it since the 1950s, when the Spinolas, a family of baronial merchants, entrusted it to the world’s oldest surviving chivalric order.

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (to offer it its full name) is an enigmatic Catholic religious fraternity founded in 1048.Despite having no territory, it is thought about a sovereign entity under international law, printing its own postage stamps and coins.A butler, in a white jacket with gold buttons, leads me into the salone, where I await His Most Eminent Highness the Prince and Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, likewise referred to as Matthew Festing, a previous Grenadier Guardsman from Northumbria in England.

I was informed to present formally, as befitting an encounter with a head of state but, disappointingly, Festing is in mufti, consisting of a blue coat and green trousers, rather than his ceremonial black cloaking.

The former Sotheby s consultant took possession of the ochre rental property surrounded by maritime pines and a unique garden of cacti, palms and orange bird-of-paradise flowers in 2008 when he was selected as the order s 79th Grand Master. Festing was chosen for life in a secret tally at a papal-style conclave in Rome and has both a ceremonial and decision-making function managing its humanitarian activity. He does not draw a salary although his living expenses are fulfilled.Festing plays down the splendor. You would believe, gosh, it’s an enormous house, you can have 25 individuals to remain, however you’d be pushed to have more than 6. It’s a household home truly.

Aged 66, he has actually not wed or had children as one of about 60 proclaimed knights, he has actually taken a vow of celibacy, as well as of poverty and obedience. His great-nieces and nephews see in the summer, playing in the tower and cruising in his 1960s Ligurian fishing boat.The villa was integrated in the early 1600s, with a watchtower as defense versus any attack from French-Piedmontese soldiers. An antique brass telescope stands at a first-floor window, mentioning to sea as if preparing for a raid.

Historically, members of the order have actually been come down from European nobility. Festing traces his family back to 14th-century knights. His forefather, Sir Adrian Fortescue, a cousin of Anne Boleyn, was carried out because he refused to sign an oath acknowledging Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church in England instead of the Pope.

We sit amid 17th-century Genovese furniture checking out wooden doors on to the chequered-floor terrace and the sea beyond. The room is replete with chandeliers, pictures of regional nobility and antique curiosities, consisting of a stuffed turtle and a harpsichord.Behind a curtain is a chapel with red silk walls, six sculpted wooden benches, a green-painted altar and a spectacular view. Which for the regional priest who states mass there every early morning might be part of the tourist attraction?

There are 2 staircases, the servants and the grand, both leading to the very first floor where Aeneas Escape from Troy by the Neapolitan painter Luca Giordano (1634-1705) hangs in Festing’s office. Dismal however extraordinary, he says.

Paintings were Festing’s first love during his years as Sotheby’s representative in Northumbria he when found an unidentified painting by Constable of a garden. She, a perfectly regular woman, was the descendant of Constable’s neighbor, a Mr. Gardener.

Festing, a hospitable fellow, offers a splendid lunch, stating grace in Latin prior to and after. We are served bresaola, orange and grapefruit salad, followed by saffron risotto with osso buco then cheeses, accompanied by white wine.The order was founded when a group of knights developed a hospital to tend individuals of all faiths. The intentions of these warrior monks were complicated, Festing admits. Some were on a spiritual high, others were just short of land.

Because of their basic training, the original knights also acted as a Christian militia, safeguarding pilgrims from attack. They were eliminated of Jerusalem in 1291, settling in Rhodes and then Malta, which they ruled until they were forced out by Napoleon in 1798.Its territory lost, the order is now located in Rome and draws on its charitable instead of military roots, operating humanitarian relief and medical objectives in more than 120 nations. Practically 100,000 individuals deal with and for the order, including more than 80,000 as volunteers. It’s larger than the British army, Festing mention.

Some of its 25,000 physicians, nurses and paramedics run older people s homes in England, schools for autistic children in France and homes for people impacted by leprosy in Brazil. The order has actually been at the forefront of Europe’s refugee crisis, offering physicians on Italian coastguard vessels saving migrants in the Mediterranean. It likewise runs 70 emergency shelters and 30 registration Centre’s with medical and legal facilities for refugees in Germany.

The orders property portfolio spends for its main administration in Italy, however worldwide operations are decentralized and run by individual associations. Work is moneyed by donors such as the EU, federal government and global firms in addition to individuals more than 1m in Germany and 1m in France. They may be a little old lady who provides you five euros and they might be Mr. Big who offers you 10,000 euros.

As a sovereign entity, the order has a network of embassies, allowing diplomatic relations with 104 countries. Like Palestine, another stateless sovereignty, it has observer status at the UN. This unusual location in worldwide politics, together with its mysterious practices and rituals, has provoked no scarcity of Dan Brown-style conspiracy theories over the years, with some asserting that the order is a shadowy clique of modern-day Crusaders with a Christian supremacist agenda.

In 2008 the order was accused of links to Blackwater, the mercenary security group, a connection Festing’s predecessor robustly rejected. There have likewise been (rebutted) asserts that the previous United States leader in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, was a member. The order has needed to face wild allegations from conspiracy theorists of orchestrating everything from the assassination of John F Kennedy to the Iraq war.

In reality the orders impact has actually been overemphasized, says Festing, and it doesn’t cut much ice with politicians. Having embassies provides the order with direct access to federal government. State you desire to get pharmaceuticals through without export responsibilities, or if equipment gets stuck at customs for months, you might be able to use access to work out.

Festing appears credible perhaps because he looks and sounds like somebody you may see in cricket whites at a town match in England, or the kindly headmaster of a prep school. He definitely doesn’t appearance or sound like the head of a Masonic cabal, pulling the strings of the world order.The organization has belonged to Festing’s life always, since I was a kid. After checking out history at St John’s College, Cambridge, he joined the Grenadier Guards with tours of responsibility in the Gulf, Northern Ireland and Belize. On leaving the army he was recruited to work for the order by his uncle.

The potential for adventure was likely to have been a draw. Festing drove emergency situation materials to Bosnia by convoy throughout the 1990s conflict. He was typically required to relocate improbable worlds. As part of a series of plans to assist abandoned women in the Balkans to support their families, he trundled around the north of England sourcing curlers and hairbrushes to allow them to begin hairdressing businesses. There was something extremely odd about that. Under the exact same scheme, he found himself on the periphery of a chicken-breeding operation. The entire thing was quite peculiar.

His present function includes going round thanking people, encouraging people and aiming to show an interest in what they are doing.

Festing holds the status of a cardinal, the order is separate from the Vatican thanks to a 12th-century decree ensuring its self-reliance. The pope emeritus Benedict XVI not God’s Rottweiler, he’s God’s teddy bear is close to the order, although it was Pope Francis who put Festing’s predecessor Andrew Bertie, a fellow Englishman and a remote cousin of the Queen on the first action of the ladder to sainthood, which will happen if/when two miracles are attributed to him.