Fra’ Matthew Festing, 58, an Englishman, becomes the 79th Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, elected this morning by the Council Complete of State (the Order’s electoral body).
In accepting the role, the new Grand Master swore his Oath before the Cardinal Patronus of the Order, Cardinal Pio Laghi, and the Council Complete of State. He succeeds Fra’ Andrew Bertie, 78th Grand Master (1988-2008), who died on 7 February.
The new Grand Master affirms his resolve to continue the great work carried out by his predecessor. Fra’ Matthew comes with a wide range of experience in Order affairs. He has been the Grand Prior of England since the Priory’s re-establishment in 1993, restored after an abeyance of 450 years. In this capacity, he has led missions of humanitarian aid to Kosovo, Serbia and Croatia after the recent disturbances in those countries, and with a large delegation from Britain he attends the Order’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes with handicapped pilgrims.
Educated at Ampleforth and St.John’s College Cambridge, where he read history, Fra’ Matthew, an art expert, has for most of his professional life worked at an international art auction house. As a child he lived in Egypt and Singapore, where his father, Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, had earlier postings. His mother was a member of the recusant Riddells of Swinburne Castle who suffered for their faith in penal times. He is also descended from Sir Adrian Fortescue, a knight of Malta, who was martyred in 1539.
Fra’ Matthew served in the Grenadier Guards and holds the rank of colonel in the Territorial Army. He was appointed OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen and has served as her Deputy Lieutenant in the county of Northumberland for a number of years.
In 1977 Fra’ Matthew became a member of the Order of Malta, taking solemn religious vows in 1991.
As well as his passion for the decorative arts and for history, for which his encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of the Order is legendary, as is his very British sense of humour, Fra’ Matthew spends any free time possible in his beloved Northumberland countryside.