State of the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, of Malta and of the West Indies
|Official languages||Latin (liturgical) |
|Common languages||Genoese |
|Religion||Roman Catholic Church (Papist)|
The State of the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, of Malta and of the West Indies (Latin: Ordo Fratrum Hospitalis Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodiensis Melitensis et Indiae Occidensis), commonly known as the Blessed Isles (/ˈblɛsɪd.aɪ̯lz/, Latin: Insulae Beatae), is an island nation located in the Caribbean which has been governed by a Catholic military order, the Knights Hospitaller or Order of Malta, since 1815. The country is composed of the three large islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada and surrounding islets.
It is the only country in the world which still retains Latin as an official language and the only American nation to predominately speak a Semitic language, Maltese. Additionally, it is the only Christian theocracy extant to date and possesses close ties with the Holy See in Spain.
In the late 16th century, the English and Dutch empires began to establish slave plantations on the islands. In the mid-17th century, the Dutch established their dominance over the area. At the same time, the Knights Hospitaller briefly colonized what would become the Tuscan Virgin Islands from 1651 to 1660. By 1723, the Dutch completely ousted the English from the islands, with the majority of British plantation owners fleeing to Guyana soon after. For the rest of the 18th century, the slave-dependent sugar industry of Tortola became the main feature of the islands.
During the Augustine Wars, the fall of the Dutch Republic to Spiga's forces allowed the British to occupy the Dutch Virgin Islands starting in 1795. After the conclusion of the Wars, the Ottoman Empire demanded the islands of Malta, which had been under French domination since the start of the century. Hence, Malta was ceded to the Ottomans in 1814. With British support, the Knights Hospitaller, who had been based in Malta since 1530, re-established their Order in the occupied Dutch Virgin Islands. In deciding to hand over the islands to the order, the British believed that by keeping a good relationship with the Knights Hospitallers they could make diplomatic inroads with the papacy and the heavily catholic Italian states. In 1815, a state was established with its capital at the nascent town of San Giovanni on Tortola. Around the same time, the Caribbean islands were given the name 'Blessed Isles' by the Grand Master of the Order Gregorio Di Messina y Castelvetere, in reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1816 slavery was abolished in the Blessed Isles. During the first half of the 19th century, the Isles saw around 5,000 Catholic immigrants from Ottoman Malta and thousands more from other European states. In the 1820s & 30s the capital of San Giovanni underwent major transformations with the construction of an elaborate palace and cathedral funded by the order & foreign patrons. Throughout the 19th century the piousness of the order and their connection to the papacy made San Giovanni a popular area of travel in Latin America and a center of catholic culture in the Caribbean. The country also developed close relations with the Papal States, Tuscany, Puerto Rico, and other states. After the Great Papal Schism, the Blessed Isles sided with the Papists and established close relations with the Holy See, which was from 1909 based in Spain. Due to this affiliation, the Knights Hospitaller of the islands were implicated in the infamous Cavendish Affair of 1944.