Malta, 1775: The Twilight of the Knights
Bartolomeo, the clergyman, therefore, promises to bring his case to the Holy Father and inform the Ruspoli family of the incident. In return, by the way, he asks the Knight to keep him informed on the actions and intentions of Don Mannarino, now leader of the entire Maltese revolutionary movement, revealing to him that Ninu Fenech and his sister are very close to the priest and that Ninu is among the leaders of the nationalist movement. Bartolomeo, who already suspected a close link between Ninu and Mannarino, agrees even though he feels guilty to betray the trust of his friend and of the woman he secretly feels to love. In any case, he convinces the former corporal to let him meet the revolutionary priest. When, after much reticence, Ninu agrees to introduce him to don Mannarino in his parish in Floriana, the priest shows him, in the church’s rectory, the commoners that the parish takes care of. Bartolomeo, observing the misery in which they live and feeling ashamed of the government of his confreres, with whom he has long shared the substantial lack of interest in the conditions of the people, ending up betraying the very “Charism” of the Order, bursts into tears and decides to help the priest in his charitable work.
From this moment, Bartolomeo constantly lives the inner conflict that he already began to feel from the moment of his escape: on the one hand, also concerning the honour of his family, he is deeply bound to the oaths pronounced a few years earlier swearing loyalty to the Order; on the other hand, he understands the errors and pride of the Knights and, above all, he cannot help but think about a future together with Tereza, the woman he loves. By now, he has, therefore, come to feel like a traitor to anyone: to his Order, for which he is a fugitive, because of his collaboration with the leadership of the nationalist movement and to his friends and don Mannarino for the role of spy of Monsignor Pellerano he is having. Over time, anyway, his bond with Mannarino becomes more and more intense and, soon, Bartolomeo finds himself participating in the meetings of nationalist leaders. Meanwhile, Monsignor Pellerano, leaving for Rome, entrusts him with the task of keeping the revolutionary movement at bay until his return. Bartolomeo seems to carry out the job successfully, convincing Mannarino of the uselessness of a revolt, until the moment in which, probably pushed by Rohan-Polduc, who wants to break the stall to turn the situation in his favour and replace Ximenez, a group of French Knights attacks Don Mannarino and beats him severely. This episode seems to exacerbate the priest’s soul, who, from that moment on, has no more delay and, with his associates, begins to plan a military action that induces the government to a decisive change. Bartolomeo is, finally, involved in the planning, although he continues to send alarming news to Pellerano, now on his mission to Rome.
The plan drawn up by the rioters consists of forcibly occupying the two strategic points of Forte Sant’Elmo and Forte San Giacomo and, once the two strongholds have been conquered, sending a delegation to parley with the chivalric government.
Monsignor Pellerano, hastily returned from Rome, where he noted the substantial papal disinterest in the island’s events, has no longer any possibility of intervening. The only thing he can do is to invite his priests to desist from carrying out violent actions and, therefore, on the morning of 8th September 1775, the so-called “Revolt of the Priests” begins although about half of the revolted parishes, accepting the invitation of the Bishop, don’t go to