Adrien de Wignacourt, Grand Master of the Order of Malta, 1690 - 1697

  • During Wignacourt's reign, the catastrophic 1693 earthquake struck Malta and Sicily.
  • He established a relief fund for widows and orphans of Maltese soldiers.
  • He resolved a 40-year dispute between the Order and the Republic of Genoa.
  • Under Wignacourt, poor Maltese citizens were employed to construct a magnificent shipyard and several coastal fortifications.

Born in 1618, Adrien de Wignacourt, the nephew of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, entered the Order in the Langue of France.

Rising through the ranks, he eventually became Grand Treasurer before being elected Grand Master in July 1690, following the death of Grand Master Gregorio Carafa.

Wignacourt is remembered for his piety and charity, which he demonstrated by establishing a relief fund for the widows and orphans of Maltese soldiers who died in service to the Order.

His actions inspired other knights to contribute to the fund, leading the Order’s Sovereign Council to employ poor Maltese inhabitants in the construction of a magnificent shipyard for galleys and coastal fortifications.

His reign is marked by the devastating earthquake that struck Malta in 1693.

Painting of Adrien de Wignacourt

Under Wignacourt's rule, the Order's navy supported Venice against the Turks, although no significant achievements were recorded.

After the failed assault on Venice-ruled Candia in 1692, the Order's squadron withdrew due to impending danger and the approaching winter season.

Wignacourt's tenure is marked by the devastating earthquake of 1693 that caused widespread damage across Malta and Sicily. The Mdina Cathedral (St. Paul’s Cathedral) was destroyed, and the town of Augusta in Sicily was razed.

In response, Wignacourt quickly provided aid to the affected inhabitants and oversaw the construction of new, larger warehouses bearing his coat of arms.

The Order's Treasury financed the rebuilding of structures in both Malta and Augusta, including the reconstruction of the Mdina Cathedral, designed by Lorenzo Gafà.

Depiction of the earthquake in an engraving from 1696

The old cathedral of Mdina before the earthquake, as depicted on a fresco at the Grandmaster's Palace in Valletta

Mdina Cathedral today

Another notable accomplishment was Wignacourt's role in resolving a 40-year dispute between the Order and the Republic of Genoa, a medieval republic later integrated into the unification of Italy in 1861. This longstanding quarrel over naval salutes, which began during Grand Master Lascaris's reign, led to the exclusion of Genoans from the Order.

Wignacourt's efforts, coupled with Pope Innocent XII's assistance, brought about an amicable resolution and the admission of numerous Genoan knights into the Order.

After a successful seven-year reign, Grand Master Adrien de Wignacourt passed away on February 4, 1697, at the age of 79. He was laid to rest in the Chapel of France in the Conventual Church (St. John’s Co-Cathedral), leaving behind a legacy of charity, fortitude, and diplomacy.

Chapel of the langue of France in the St. John's Co-Cathedral