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Venerable Order of Saint John

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This page deals with the order after its revival in the 19th century. For the original order of St John, see Knights Hospitaller.

The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, or Order of St John to use its short title, is a British-based royal order of chivalry, and is found throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as the United States of America. Whilst members are mainly of the Protestant faith, those of other Christian denominations may be honoured with appointment and be accepted into the Order. Honorary membership is also presented to some distinguished adherents of other religions. Membership of the Order is by invitation only, and individuals may not petition for admission. It is perhaps better known through its largest service organisation, St. John Ambulance, whose membership is not limited to any denomination or religion.



[edit] The History of the Order of St John

In June 1826, the Council of the French Langues, which was an unofficial revival of the Order of Malta in France, sought to raise money by which to restore a homeland for the Order. The Council had decided upon a private venture, funded by subscription. Essentially they sought to create a mercenary army, attracting into its service some of the large numbers of unemployed English soldiers and utilise the cheap war surplus that was available. Philippe de Castelain, a French Knight, had been appointed to negotiate with suitable people in England. Donald Currie, a Scotsman living in England, was given the authority to raise £240,000. Both financial subscribers to the Scheme, and all Commissioned Officers of the mercenary army had the right to become Knights in the Order.

Although new Knights were created, little money was raised. The Greek war had been won without the help of the French Knights. Castelain and Currie were authorised by Chevalier de Sainte-Croix to form the Council of the English Langue. This was inaugurated on 12 January 1831. The executive power of the Council was given to a person who called himself 'Count' Alexander Mortara. The address for the Council was the "Auberge of St John, St John's Gate, St John's Square, Clerkenwell". This was none other than the public house "The Old Jerusalem Tavern", which occupied what had been the Gatehouse to the mediæval English Grand Priory.

The Reverend Sir Robert Peat, Vicar of a Parish in Brentford, Middlesex, and one of the many former Chaplains to the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) was recruited as a member of the English Langue. Peat with other British members of the Langue expelled Mortara, accusing him of selling Knighthoods. The Council of the French Langues backed Mortara, and so from early 1832, there were two competing English Langues, the Langue led by Peat, being the unofficial English Langue. The rival organisations co-existed for five years, until the disappearance of Mortara early in 1837, when his organisation also disappeared.

Following Peat's death in April 1837, Sir Henry Dymoke succeeded as Grand Prior, and under his leadership, contact was re-established with the Knights in France and Germany. The British Order sought official recognition from the Roman Catholic Headquarters of the Order of Malta but this was refused by Lieutenant Grand Master Commander Philippe de Colloredo-Mansfeld (1845-1864). Up to this point, the English organisation had only considered itself to be a Grand Priory and Langue of the Order. In response to the Roman Catholic Order's refusal of recognition, the English Priory declared itself to be the Sovereign Order in England, under the title "The Sovereign and Illustrious Order of St John of Jerusalem, Anglia".

The English Order continued in its growth, and had been able to recruit the 7th Duke of Manchester, who became their Grand Prior in 1861. The beginnings of well-established national Hospitaller organisation began when the Order created a corps of Ambulances in the 1860s. In 1871 a new Constitution brought about a further change of name offering a more modest identity; "Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in England". In 1876, the Princess of Wales was recruited into membership, followed by the Prince of Wales. In 1877 the British Priory of the Order established St John Ambulance Associations in large railway centres and mining districts so that railway men and colliers might learn how to treat victims of accidents. This was followed up in 1887 with the creation of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. In 1882 the British Grand Priory founded a Hospice and Ophthalmic Dispensary in Jerusalem.

Already to their credit was the very practical and life saving work undertaken by both the Ambulance Brigade and Association. In terms of status, the biggest leap forward was the official recognition conveyed in 1888 by way of the granting of a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria, under the title "The Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in England". The most recent Charter is dated 1955, with a supplemental charter in 1974. The 1974 Charter recognised the world-wide scope of the order by setting its current name and short title. The reigning monarch, at this time Queen Elizabeth II, serves as the Sovereign Head of the Order.

Whilst the British Order is ecumenical in membership, and from its early days counted Roman Catholics as members, it is identified with the Reformed tradition, through its Royal Head, who is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The British Order received collateral recognition from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) in 1963. The Christian ethos of the order is confirmed in the declaration which potential members must make, and which reads in part "and that I will endeavour always to uphold the aims of this Christian Order"

[edit] Alliance of Orders of St John of Jerusalem

The "Alliance of the Orders of St. John" consists of the British Order and three other primarily Protestant orders:

[edit] Committee on the Orders of St John

The Alliance of the Orders of St. John and the Catholic Sovereign Military Order of Malta form the "Mutually Recognised Orders of St. John" and none of these five recognise any of the other St John orders (which they describe as "self-styled"), their claims to be descended from the original order of St John or their right to use the name and symbols of the order. By contrast, the other orders often dispute the claims of the Alliance and Catholic orders, particularly those of the SMOM.

The “Committee on the Orders of St John”, founded in Rome on the initiative of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in 1974, is the oldest institution in which the five recognized Orders of St John cooperate autonomously and with equal authority: The Balley Brandenburg (Brandenburg Bailiwick) of the Ritterlicher Orden vom Spital zu Jerusalem (representing the German Johanniter Order), the Most Venerable Order of St. John, the Johanniter Orde in Nederland, the Johanniterorden i Sverige and the catholic Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (the Sovereign Military Order of Malta).

According to its statutes, the Committee on the Orders of St John has the task of observing and recording “Orders” of St John who copy the names, emblems and documents of recognized Orders. The information the Committee obtains is made available to the governments of the orders represented in the committee, to public authorities and church offices, to the media and interested individual parties. Over the course of time, the committee previously known as the “False Orders Committee” is acknowledged as an authority by more groups than just the orders represented in it.

It is faced with quite a task. The number of private associations is enormous that have assumed the names, or parts of names, of dissolved military orders, or that bear impressive names that sound knightly. These groups are characterized by constant activity. They want to be noticed, they seek recognition, and not infrequently, this in fact makes them a thorn in the side of the recognized St John’s Orders.[1]

[edit] The Order in the United Kingdom

[edit] Composition

The British Sovereign is the Sovereign of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in the United Kingdom. The next most senior member of the Order is the Grand Prior which has been held by HRH The Duke of Gloucester since 1974. HRH The Duchess of Gloucester and HRH The Princess Royal are the two Dames Grand Cross of the Order, by date of appointment. The Sovereign makes all appointments to the Order as She in her absolute discretion shall think fit. Recommendations are made by the Grand Council.

The Order is divided into the following Classes:

  • Grade I - Bailiffs or Dames Grand Cross (G.C.St.J)
  • Grade II - Knights or Dames of Justice or Grace (K.St.J or D.St.J)
  • Grade III - (a) Chaplains (Ch.St.J) and (b) Commanders (Brothers or Sisters) (C.St.J)
  • Grade IV - Officers (Brothers or Sisters) (O.St.J)
  • Grade V - Serving Brothers or Serving Sisters (S.B.St.J) or (S.S.St.J)
  • Grade VI - Esquires (Esq.St.J)

[edit] Officers

The Order of St. John has at least five officers:

  1. Grand Prior
  2. Lord Prior of St. John
  3. Prelate
  4. Deputy Lord Prior(s) (depending on Grand Prior’s need for one or two)
  5. Sub-Prelate

Other Principal Officers, such as that of the Secretary-General, and Honorary Officers, such as that of the Genealogist, can be appointed by the Grand Prior on the recommendation of the Grand Council. The Principal and Honorary Officers are appointed to hold office for such period not exceeding three years. The Grand Prior may also appoint a Secretary of the Order who shall hold office during the pleasure of the Grand Prior or until resignation.

The Precedence within the Order is as follows:

  1. The Sovereign Head
  2. The Grand Prior
  3. The Lord Prior of St. John
  4. The Prior of a Priory or the Knight/Dame Commander of a Commandery when within the territory of the Establishment
  5. The Prelate of the Order
  6. The Deputy Lord Prior of the Deputy Lord Priors and if more than one in the order of seniority in their Grades
  7. The Sub-Prior of the Order
  8. Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross
  9. The Prior of a Priory outside the territory of the Priory
  10. The Members of the Grand Council not included above in the order of seniority in their Grades
  11. The Principal Officers in the order of their offices
  12. The Sub-Prelates
  13. The Hospitaller of the Order
  14. Knights and Dames
  15. Chaplains
  16. Commanders
  17. Officers
  18. Serving Brother and Serving Sisters
  19. Esquires

[edit] Vestments and accoutrements

Members of the Order wear elaborate costumes on important occasion for the Order, which vary by rank:

The Sovereign Head’s mantle has a train, and is of silk velvet, lined with white silk. The Badge, a 12” diameter, eight-pointed, or Maltese Cross, is on the left breast, and is embellished with gold, and surmounted with an Imperial Crown.

The Grand Prior’s mantle is similar, but has no train or crown.

Bailiffs Grand Cross (and Knights of Justice prior to 1926) formerly wore black silk robes, lined with black silk. Theses are now made, like those of Knights, of black merino. They are faced with black silk, bear a 12” white linen Badge of the Order on the left breast, embellished with gold coloured silk, and with the tongues in red.

Members of the Order of the Grades I and II wear black merino mantles, faced with black silk, and bearing a 12” white linen Badge of the Order on the left breast. The Badges of the Knights of Justice are embellished with gold coloured silk, those of Knights of Grace, or Associate Knight, with white silk embellishments.

Commanders, and Officers in the Chapter-General, also wear black merino mantles faced with black silk. Their Badges however are smaller, 9” and 6” respectively, of which linen, embellished in white silk.

A white enameled Star of eight points without embellishment, worn on the left.

The Badge of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem
The Badge of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem

The Secretary of the Order, and of the priories and commanderies, wear mantles similar to those of Officers, with the Badge superimposed upon two goose quill pens embroidered saltire-wise in white silk. The Medical Officer of the St John Ophthalmic Hospital, Jerusalem, may wear a mantle of special pattern. Women have worn mantles since 1974. Esquires wear the mantle of an Officer. In New Zealand the mantle is worn by Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross, Knights and Dames, Commanders, and Officers in the Priory Chapter.

A riband of black watered silk, worn over the right shoulder, carries the Badge of Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross on the left hip. A similar, narrower riband carries the Badge of Knights and Dames of Justice and of Grace round the neck. Commanders wear the Badge round the neck, but women Commanders wear it from a bow on the left breast. Officers wear the Badge on the left breast, and Serving Brothers and Sisters wear a circular medal bearing the cross of the Order in white enamel on a black enamel background. The embellishment of the Badge for the third, fourth and fifth class members is silver.(12)

Beneath the mantle, in 1248 the knights were allowed a surcoat of black, with a white cross, and worn over armour. In 1259 this was changed to a red surcoat. By the fourteenth century surcoats had become shorter, more tight-fitting, and were called a jupon.

The modern sopra (or supra)-vest, formerly called a surcoat or under mantle, is a long coat of thin black cloth buttoning close down the neck and down one side, falling to the ankles. It is cut so as to entirely cover the tie, shirt, waistcoat and trousers. It is similar to a cassock, though it is a survival of the surcoat worn of the Order in ancient times (the supra vestis), rather than of the black fur-lined cassock or pellicea.

In the centre of the sopra-vest worn by Bailiffs Grand Cross is a plain eight-pointed cross of white cloth 12" in diameter.

Knights, Chaplains, or Commanders wear the sopra-vest plain, but the Badge is suspended from its riband so that it hangs about 6" below the Collar of the sopra-vest.

The sopra-vest is rarely worn in Australia or New Zealand.

The Prelate wears the Cope of the Order. Chaplains may wear a black silk full-sleeved robe bearing a 6" linen cross on the left breast, of gold embellished silk.

Clerical members of the Order may, when officiating, wear a tippet of black stuff(13) with red lining and edging and with red buttons. A 3" Badge is carried on the left breast. The tippet is worn over their cassock and surplice, or their non-conformist equivalent. Over the tippet a chaplain's Badge is worn around the neck.

A square black velvet cap with red edges and buttons may also be worn.

[edit] Precedence and privileges

The Order of St. John of Jerusalem is not a State Order, but a Royal Order of Chivalry. Its decorations can be worn on military uniform, and announcements of appointments or promotions are made in the official government periodical, the London Gazette, as with any other Order. However, no grade confers any title or social precedence outside the order. Thus a "Knight of Grace" or a "Knight of Justice" is not entitled to use the title "Sir" which a knight of the State Orders of Chivalry uses. New knights of the Order receive the accolade from the Grand Prior when they are touched on the shoulder with a sword and receive their robes and insignia. Though the above Grades of the Order are given specific post-nominal letters, they only show that the recipient has been honoured unlike State Orders or Decorations which indicate precedence.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

British honours system
Current Orders
Garter | Thistle | Bath | St Michael and St George | Distinguished Service | Royal Victorian | Merit | Imperial Service | British Empire | Companions of Honour
Old Orders

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Other Honours and Appointments
Hereditary peer | Life peer | Privy Counsellor | Baronet | Knight | St John | Other orders and decorations
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