sosj crest logo

Outline of Purpose and History of the Order

By noted historian and member of the Heraldic Society

Sir Robert Cave – Browne – Cave, Bt, GCSJ.
900 Years of Chivalry (1099 to 2007)


The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller is an Order of Chivalry dedicated to the service of all humanity in the name of Christ.It is also a non-profit, ecumenical, international Christian organization directly descended from the Order of St. John founded by the Blessed Gerard in the late 11th Century. The Order today is comprised of Knights and Dames who serve charitable and community causes.

A REFUGE FOR THE SICK, THE POOR AND THE NEEDY Historians write that Christians made pilgrimages to the Holy Shrines of Christ as early as the 5th Century. Jerusalem fell to the Saracen nomads from Syria and Arabia in 683 A.D. but, by the start of the 9th Century, the Emperor Charlemagne had a protectorate over the Holy Places which was recognized in 807 by Caliph Haroun-al-Rachidin. Charlemagne founded a Latin hospice for pilgrims along with other Christian establishments. Peaceful coexistence ended in 1010 when a tyrant Caliph destroyed the hospice and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.Sometime between 1050 and 1080 a hospital was established for the use of poor and sick pilgrims on the site of the old hospice of Charlemagne. The land had been purchased by some merchants from Amalfi. Many pilgrims who received help from the hospital decided to remain in Jerusalem and founded a loose association to continue and expand their Christian works. At first they were known as nursing brothers, but soon they began calling themselves Brothers in St. John.

While territorial disputes continued throughout the Holy Land, Jerusalem was considered a Holy City by Christians, Jews and Muslims. Late in the 11th Century, the Latin Church decided that the Holy Lands belonged to the Christians and not the Muslims, who had taken the lands from the Greek Christians of the Byzantine Empire. In 1095, Pope Urban II launched a crusade.


When the Crusaders first stormed the gates of Jerusalem, the Christian Brothers converted the hostel to the very first hospital to help knights wounded in battle recover. In 1099, the first king of Jerusalem constituted these brothers as a religious order B the Order of St. John. Many knights who had been saved by the brothers chose to stay and become members of the order.In 1136, the Order of St. John took on more administrative roles and the King of Jerusalem and the Pope constituted the knights as a chivalric order. They remained the essential lifeline for the crusades and crusaders. The eight-pointed cross, which had been the badge of the City of Amalfi, replaced the earlier plain white cross. This eight-point cross was worn on a black tunic by the hospitallers and the white cross on a red tunic by the military knights in time of war. The four arms of the cross were symbolic of the four Christian virtues and the eight points represented the beatitudes.

For centuries, the Knights of St. John were the most capable statesmen, governors, administrators, engineers and builders in Christendom. They frequently were called on to manage estates and resolve territorial problems and disputes.

People traveled from throughout all of Europe and Asia Minor to be treated at the Hospital of the Knights that was established in Malta in the 16th Century. The Military Academy of the Order, the Corps de Pages, was universally acknowledged to be the finest in the world. The Knights of St. John controlled the Mediterranean Sea with their great galley, fought heroic land battles in the Holy Lands and throughout the Middle East and Africa. Often out-numbered as much as 20-to-1, the knights achieved victory after victory and virtually single-handedly assured the security of Europe and the preservation of Christendom.


Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the deposition of the Romanov Protectors and the advent of Communist rule, the activities of the Order were virtually extinguished in Russia. The Order was nurtured abroad by members of the Romanov families and other Members of the Order. Its authorities were then transferred to Yugoslavia where it flourished under the protection of the Royal Family in that country.After the murders of many members of the Russian Imperial Family, the relics of the Order, including the hand of John the Baptist, which has been venerated through the ages, was transported for safekeeping to Denmark, the home-in-exile of the Dowager Czarina Maria Dagmar, who entrusted the Relics to King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, a Romanov and Member of the Order who had been invested into the Order as a young man while in the Corps-de-Pages in St. Petersburg.

It was to his son, King Peter II, that history entrusted the modern continuation of the Order. This leadership remained uninterrupted until the German invasion of Yugoslavia that forced the young monarch into exile.

King Peter II, a descendant of Czar Paul I and Queen Victoria, was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1962 he was confirmed as Grand Protector of the Order. His Majesty demonstrated his concern for the promotion of the work of the Order in modern times by revising and promulgating its Constitution and Royal Charter in 1964. These serve as the basis upon which the Accolade of Knighthood in the Order is conferred. In 1965, King Peter II was elected as the 73rd Grand Master, an office he held until his death in 1970. His brother H.R.H. Prince Andrej of Yugoslavia who became the Order's 74th Grand Master, a position he held until his death in 1990, succeeded him.

Since then the Sovereign Order has chosen to elect a Lieutenant Grand Master. The current holder of this office is His Excellency Bailiff Robert Gordon Brodie GCSJ CMSJ, who is the worldwide leader of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller.

During the mid-17th Century, the knights owned islands in the Caribbean, including St. Croix what is now a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The foundation of the Order in the Americas was initiated by William Lamb of Norfolk, Virginia and a scion of many generations of Virginia farmers. He graduated from The College of William & Mary and St. Lawrence University with LL.B. and LL.D. degrees and was a colonel for the Confederacy during the War Between the States. He was appointed consul and vice consul for Sweden and Norway, respectively, and served three terms as mayor of Norfolk from 1880 to 1886. The U.S. Priory received a Charter of Incorporation on January 18, 1911. THE AIMS OF THE SOVEREIGN ORDER

The aims of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller are to bring together ladies and gentlemen who are already known for their love of humanity and who are, and will continue to be, contributors to the good of their communities. Recognizing them and inviting them into the Order adds a new dimension to their already demonstrated commitment to serve Christ's sick and poor. To become a Member of the Order brings with it the highest honour and responsibility which is carrying forth the centuries old history and traditions of the Order.


In the 21st Century this ancient and chivalric Order thrives on its collective mission-the care of the sick and poor of Christ. It enjoys a democratically elected leadership, continuation of the customs and traditions of its glorious past and the vitality of its membership.The entire worldwide organization, including the Sovereign Council, the Grand Priory of Europe, the Grand Priory of The Americas, the Grand Priory of Australia, its Priories and Commanderies are not-for-profit organizations operating under the laws of their respective countries.

Each operates or supports philanthropic projects under the aegis of its respective charitable trusts, while acknowledging and promoting the good works carried out individually by its Members. The Order is one of Chivalry. Its motto: Pro Fide, Pro Utilitate (For Faith, For Service to Humanity) is upheld by all Members of the Sovereign Order. The Order, in its charitable activities, strives to serve Christ's sick and His poor.

International headquarters of the Order are located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. There are Grand Priories in Europe, Australia and the Americas. Priories are located in the United States, Scandinavia (Nordic), Belgium (Alvalterre), Switzerland (Deutschschweiz) and in Austria. Independent commanderies; Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, and Isai, Romania. The Order is registered in Canada as a charitable institution and in the U.S., each commandery is registered as a state and federal tax-exempt, non-profit charitable and educational entity.


Based on belief and historical tradition, the hand of St. John the Baptist is the Order's most sacred relic. Carried through the centuries by Knights of the Order, it now remains sheltered and protected within a religious sanctuary in Montenegro, Yugoslavia.Knights and dames invested into the Order of St. John are honored for their faith and service to humanity. These modern day knights and dames continue the tradition of chivalry with their contributions to their communities and desire to contribute to the goals of the Order the care of the Lord's sick and poor. Here are some examples of their work: The Vancouver and Victoria (Canada) Commanderies provide support for the Palliative Care, Hospice and In Home Care in British Columbia. The San Francisco, St. Joseph and St. Francis Commanderies (Western U.S.) established and support a cancer care facility. The Commanderies of the Palm Beaches, New York, Military Hospitaller, West Indies, Nicaragua, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. form the Priory of the Eastern U.S. and support local programs that care for the sick and poor. Palm Beaches in 2001 donated $60,000 to children's charities, during Christmas Week 2002, provided 17,500 meals for 850 needy families in Palm Beach County. And again provided 17,500 meals for 850 needy families in Palm Beach County Thanksgiving week 2003. Working with an international agency, funds have been raised to construct permanent housing for 15 families in rural Nicaragua, to be known as The Monsignor Argüüello Village of St. John. Medical, educational and social services, as well as housing, will be finally available to those who have had nothing for so long.

In 2004, in addition to financially supporting 41 charities, two (2) million dollars was raised for the Children's Home Society for their new 35,000 sq ft, administration and treatment center. The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller's name will grace the front of this building.


Each Member has already distinguished themselves in service to the sick and poor of the Lord. In addition to individual service, a Commandery or Priory may choose one or more principle charities for collective support. Members work together through events and projects to support those endorsed charities.One does not apply for membership in The Sovereign Order of St. John. When recommended by current Members, they are promoted as Aspirants for consideration by the membership of the Order. Following approval of the Commandery, Priory and Grand Priory, Aspirant Knights and Dames are invested in a Solemn Ceremony of Investiture where they receive the Accolade of Knighthood as a Knight or Dame of Honour.


Following are some important dates in the history of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem:

1099 – Crusaders stormed the gates of Jerusalem. Their leader, Godfrey de Bouillon, was so impressed by the hospital that he endowed it with one of his manors.

1100 – Fighting continued and the hospital grew. The brothers became known as the Hospitaller of St. John and earned recognition as formidable warriors.

1113 – Pope Pascal II and the king of Jerusalem recognized the statutes of the order and approved its religious rule.

1126 – By papal bull of Anastasius IV, the order became recognized as the Order of Knights and was designated AOrdo Militai Sancti Joannis Baptistae Hospitalis Hiersolymitani.

1128 – Grand Master Raymond De Puy adopted the eight-pointed cross of Amalfi to replace the earlier plain white cross of the order.

1291 – The Crusades ended and the last Christian defenders, including the knights of St. John, were driven out of the Holy Land.

1309-1522 – After a brief stay on the island of Cyprus, the knights of St. John captured the island of Rhodes. They defended Rhodes from a great siege by Muslim Turks in 1480, but were finally forced from the island in 1522.

1530 – On March 23, 1530, the Emperor Charles V signed the Act of Donation of Malta that bestowed the islands of Malta, Comino, Gozo, Cominotto and Fifola to the knights in order that they may perform in peace the duties of their religion for the benefit of the Christian community and employ their forces and arms against the enemies of the Holy Faith. The annual payment was a falcon presented each All Saints Day. At that time, Malta was addicted to the sport of falconry. The first few years were devoted to fortifying the island and building great hospitals and schools.

1565 – Turkish forces consisting of 138 ships and 40,000 men attacked Malta. The defenders were 700 knights and 8,000 servants, men at arms and towns people. After a four month battle, the knights prevailed. Barely 10,000 Turkish troops survived. The defenders suffered more than 90 percent casualties.

1651 – On May 21, 1651, the Order of St. John purchased St. Croix from King Louis XIV of France who acted on behalf of the French West Indies Company. Documents show that as many as 600 knights lived on St. Croix in the mid-to-late 17th Century. At the same time, the knights of St. John also purchased the islands of Tortuga, St. Bartholomew and the French parts of St. Kitts, St. Christopher and Saint-Martin. At the king's insistence, the order sold the islands back to the French West Indies Company which sold them to the Danish West Indies Company. In 1917, St. Croix was sold to the United States.

1791 – An unsettled Europe caused by Napoleon and the French Revolution, coupled with the abolition of the great French priories and the order=s loss of income, prompted the knights to conclude a treaty with Tsar Nicholas I of Russia who subsequently became Protector of the Order of Malta.

1798 – Napoleon attacked Malta and the knights were forced to capitulate. Many knights went to St. Petersburg where the Emperor Paul was later elected 70th Grand Master of the Order. He established two great priories B one for the Latin Rite and one for the Orthodox Rite. 1798-1917 – The Order of St. John continued to operate while centered in Russia under the protection of Romanov Tsars Paul I and Nicholas II.

1917 – Tsar Nicholas II is deposed. Protection of the order and its sacred relics were transferred to the Royal House of Karageorgevic, close relatives of the Tsar and members of the Orthodox Church.

1962 – King Peter II of Yugoslavia became Protector of the Order, renewed its royal charter and provided the order's modern constitution. In 1964, he was elected Grand Master. He died in 1970.

1973 – H.R.H. Prince Andrej, youngest brother of King Peter, became Protector. In 1978 he became Grand Master of the order.

1911 – On January 18, 1911 the U.S. Priory received a Charter of Incorporation and a State Certificate of Incorporation stipulating the association shall be defined as the American Grand Priory.

1985 – Prince Andrej reorganized the Grand Priory of the Americas.

2000 – The Commandery of The Palm Beaches is promulgated which forms the nucleus of the Priory of the Eastern United States of America.

2002 – The Commandery of New York is promulgated.

2003 – The Military Hospitaller Order of the Eastern U.S.A., is promulgated.

2004 – The Priory of the Eastern United States is promulgated the new commanderies in the West Indies, Nicaragua, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.