Holy Order of Saint John of Jerusalem

The origin of the Order lies in a hospice for pilgrims created next to the Benedictine Abbey of St-Mary of the Latins in Jerusalem. The abbey was founded ca. 1050 by Amalfitan merchants, and the hospice ca. 1080 by Brother Gerard, and dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Its servants formed a lay fraternity under the Augustinian rule. With the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 and the establishment of the Crusader states throughout Palestine, the numbers of pilgrims increased, but the semi-permanent state of war in the area exposed them to greater dangers. A papal bull of 1113 recognized the Hospitallers of Saint-John as a monastic order, and soon after, perhaps under the influence of the Templars (founded in Jerusalem in 1120) the Hospitallers turned into armed guards, and soon into fighting monks, participating alongside the Crusaders and holding fortresses as well as hospices across the Holy Land. This militarization occurred in the 1130s. Many of them perished in the battles which led to the fall of Jerusalem in 1189, and the Order fell back to Margat in the county of Tripoli, and a few years later to Acre.

In 1206 the first Statutes of the Order were issued, which divided the order between priests or chaplains, knights and sergeants (fighting men who were commoners). The Mastership (a title copied from the Templars around 1140) was restricted to knights in 1262.

After the fall of Acre in 1291 the Order fell back to Cyprus, then managed to conquer Rhodes ca. 1310 and inherit the Levantine estates of the Templars who had been abolished in 1312. They stayed in Rhodes until forced out by the Turks in 1522, at which time the Emperor and Spanish king Charles V gave them the island of Malta (1530) where they established themselves again. The Grand-Master was made Prince of the Holy German Empire in 1607, a title which carried with it the rank of Serene Highness.

In 1301, the Order had organized itself in seven Langues: Provence, Auvergne, France, Spain, Italy, England and Germany, with a Pilier at the head of each, holding one of the top six offices of the order: Grand Commander, Marshal, Hospitaller, Drapier, Admiral, Turcopolier (Germany did not have an office; the office of Treasurer was never ascribed to a Langue).

The Langues correspond to regional groupings of priories, the priories themselves groupings of commanderies. These consist in the large number of estates which had been given over time to the Order (commendatoria meaning trust, and commendator meaning trustee; the words were later corrupted into commandery and commander). The commanderies may simply be estates, or houses where lay people are allowed to live and share some of the spiritual life of the Order (the _corrodaries), or men and women who did not meet the nobiliary requirements (the confratres or donats), or where novitiates prepared for their vows. Some houses are convents of monks and nuns. The Langues are expected to send a set number of Knights to the main Convent in Malta.

The requirements to be a knight were initially to be of knightly family, but over time they became more stringent: in the 1350s nobility of both parents, in 1428 nobility of four generations on the father’s side, in 1550 nobility of four quarters (all grandparents). The Langues each have their own requirements which can be stiffer: the French call for eight quarters, the Italians two hundred years in all four lines, the Germans sixteen quarters, and so on.


Holy Order of Saint John of Jerusalem

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