Post-classical history

St. George of Alfama, Order of

Military religious order in the Crown of Aragon, founded in 1201 and incorporated into the Order of Montesa in 1400.

The conquest of the town of Tortosa from the Muslims in 1148 brought the lower Ebro Valley under the control of the Christians of Aragon, but the stretch of coast north of the Ebro delta remained uninhabited in the second half of the twelfth century and was an easy prey to Muslim naval raids. The area between the mountains and the sea was barren and so had not been affected by post-1148 resettlement of southern Catalonia. The existing military orders did not show any interest in the area. For those reasons King Peter II of Aragon decided to found there a new institution that would combine prayer, assistance to travelers, and defense against Muslim pirates. The royal privilege of 1201 granted to the new order, which received the symbolic name of St. George, the territory of Alfama, a coastal area between the Gulf of Sant Jordi on the northern side of the Ebro delta and the Cala Gestell facing the Coll de Balaguer about 20 kilometers (121/2 mi.) to the north. A castle was built in the following years on the seaward side whose structure was unearthed in 1988.

The Order of St. George of Alfama did not go much further from these small beginnings. It never managed to control many territories beyond the coastal region. In the thirteenth century, only two commanderies were established to control distant areas. These were Bujaraloz in eastern Aragon, which in 1229 was sold to the Hospitaller monastery of Sigena to pay off pressing debts (an early sign of continuous economic problems), and Alcarras near Lleida (Lérida). Several grants in the kingdom of Valencia and the church and castle of Riquer in eastern Catalonia were put under the rule of commanders in the fourteenth century. Some of the donations in Valencia, as well as minor ones in Mallorca, Menorca, and Sardinia, came as a result of military contributions of the order to campaigns of the kings of Aragon. The order’s modest domains produced meagre rents, which held back the development of the institution, and its eager quest for alms showed the insufficient amounts of other types of rents; an alms collector was even sent to France and England in 1368. The limited number of landed properties showed the order’s lack of appeal in the Aragonese territories, despite firm support from the Aragonese kings, and professed members were few: only six brethren in the 1370s.

The foundation did not grow firm institutional roots either. Papal confirmation was delayed until 1373, and a proper internal structure took time to develop. The office of master did not appear until 1355, and the king appointed its holders in the second half of the fourteenth century, a clear indication of the leading role of the Crown, but also of the feeble character of the order. Religious life followed the Rule of St. Augustine, but this set of regulations was only officially recognized as the code of the house by a papal bull of 1373. It did not last long; it was replaced by a new rule in 1385. The fact that this new rule was composed by Peter IV of Aragon showed the complete control of the institution by the Crown.

The extreme weakness of the Order of St. George of Alfama forced its last master, Francesc Ripollés, to approach the king of Aragon for a solution. King Martin the Humane realized that the community could not exist by itself and in 1399 decided to merge it with the much bigger Order of Montesa. Pope Benedict XIII gave his assent in 1400. St. George of Alfama vanished as an independent institution, but the plain red cross of Alfama survived and became the distinctive sign of the joint order.

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