Chev Pat Pedulla CGSJ


A Short History

The Order of St. John, one of the oldest orders of chivalry, if not the oldest, in existence today, has its roots in a hospice founded in Jerusalem in the eleventh century by merchants from Amalfi, to assist Christian travellers in the Holy Land.

Some Knights of the First Crusade, upon entering Jerusalem in July 1099, joined in these good works, already underway. On February 15, 1113 Pope Pascal II through the Papal bull “Piae postulation voluntatis” recognized the Order as a self-governing religious Order, and his taking on the protectorate of the hospital and confirmed the acquisitions and donations of the Order in Europe and Asia.

Today, all major Orders of St. John, including our Sovereign Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem stem from this recognition, retaining the symbol of the white Cross of Amalfi under which the serving brothers worked in Jerusalem.
The Order quickly took the form of a military order of chivalry, continuing the Hospitaller traditions, but also becoming one of the principal defenders of the Latin (Christian) States in the Holy Land. After the collapse of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem in the late thirteenth century, and the loss of the last mainland Crusader foothold at Acre in 1291, the Order was established briefly on Cyprus, then for 213 years on Rhodes, becoming renowned for their hospital and advanced medical treatments; however, the Islamic empire was expanding and they were attacked in 1521 by overwhelming forces under the command of Suleiman the Magnificent and lost the battle for the island, against overwhelming odds.

For a short time, the Knights were without a home.  In March of 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V signed “the Act of Donation of Malta” ceding the Island of Malta to the Order along with several other nearby islands. During this time the Order had the largest naval fleet in the Mediterranean protecting shipping and the Southern coasts of Europe form the Ottoman Turks and pirates raiding from the Barbary Coast of North Africa.

During the epic siege of Malta in 1565, a tiny band of Christian defenders led by only 200 Knights, 2,000 men at arms of The Order and some 8,000 Maltese irregular troops defied the might of a vastly larger Ottoman invading force of over 40,000 until reinforcements arrived. This victory substantially slowed the movement of Suleiman the Magnificent and his forces of Islam into Christian Western Europe.
In 1798, Napoleon threatened to invade Malta and the Order, on orders of the Grand Master Hompesch, surrendered without resistance.

The majority of the Knights opposed the decision by the Grand Master, and lead by the Prince de Conde’, they established themselves in St. Petersburg, Russia under the royal protection of Tsar Paul I. In 1798, the Catholic Grand Priory of Russia (formerly of Poland), along with the newly established Orthodox Grand Priory of Russia, elected Tsar Paul I as the 70th Grand Master of the Order. Pope Pius VI, from the Monastery of Cassini near Florence, bestowed his paternal and apostolic benediction upon Paul I shortly after he accepted the office of Grand Master. It should be noted that the Tsar was, at the time, the Royal Protector of the Order by treaty signed with the penultimate Grand Master in Malta, Emanuel de Rohan.

The Tsar Paul 1st, Emperor of All the Russias and a potentate in Europe at the time, bestowed his protection to several Commanderies and priories of the Order in Europe, and new ones were established. The Order later expanded into the New World and today our Order functions independently of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (S.M.O.M.), which in 1834 had a revival after it was practically extinguished with the abdication of Ferdinand von Hompesch under treaty with Napoleon. Our Order and the latter Order can thus be considered two major branches of one original ‘tree’.
This is our history, the Sovereign Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem; Knights of Malta are the direct descendents’ of those Knights in Russia. A “Supreme Court” ruling, delivered in Canada some years ago, confirmed the validity of this Order’s claim to legitimacy when this was challenged by the representatives of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Now Christian-ecumenical in character, the Order, its Knights Dames, and volunteers, are under the leadership of His Imperial Royal Highness the Prince Grand Master the Chevalier Sandor Habsburg-Lothringen, Archduke of Austria, Prince of Tuscany; and work for charity, giving medical and social welfare care, and humanitarian aid worldwide; irrespective of race, colour or creed.

As well as local donations, important international donations made by the Order include mobile hospitals, medicines and medical equipment to various nations, among them China, Russia, Honduras, Philippines, Ukraine and the Continent of Africa.

The Order currently has bases in Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Ukraine, UK, and of course Malta which is where our International Headquarters is located.


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