The Jerusalem Hospice
When the Crusaders stormed the gates of Jerusalem in 1099 they found a hospice dedicated to St. John which had been established by merchants from Amalfi for the purposes of caring for the sick and poor of the area, including pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. They supported and reinforced the hospice and named the organizers Hospitallers.
For their selfless Christian work and commitment to serve others, Pope Pascal II named them a Religious Order of Brothers with his Papal Bull, Pie Postulatio Voluntatis, on February 15th 1113.
For many years the Order provided care in the facility located near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Circumstances in this turbulent region ensured that the Hospitallers eventually added a military role. In recognition of this service, the Members were formally recognized as an Order of Knighthood, theKnights Hospitaller, and adopted the traditions and honors still visible today, including the distinctive red robe with the white cross of Amalfi.
In 1291 the Order lost its foothold in the Holy Land, following the fall of Jerusalem and Acre. After a brief relocation to Cyprus they established a stronghold in Rhodes, but from there they were forced out by the Saracens in 1523.
In 1530 the Order was granted the Islands of Malta by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I King of Spain 1500-1558). Soon afterwards the Knights Hospitaller endured and fought off a siege by overwhelming numbers of Ottoman forces in 1565, a victory which ranked with the battles of Lepanto and Vienna in defending Western civilization and Christianity.
The Knights Hospitaller remained in Malta for 268 years, until 1798 when Napoleonic forces infested their stronghold and forced their surrender.
Under the Protection of the Czars
Following defeat by Napoleon and loss of their common wealth and property, many of the Knights relocated to Russia under the protection of His Imperial Majesty Czar Paul I. The Czar was elected the Grand Master in 1799 and established Priories throughout Europe while the ecumenical Grand Priory continued in Russia.
When Czar Paul was assassinated in 1801, his successor, Czar Alexander, issued a Court Order (Ukase) that appropriated the remaining assets of the Order - an event probably quite necessary for the Russian Treasury as Napoleon made his famous march on Moscow in 1812.
The Order continued in Russia until the Revolution in 1917. During these hundred years many Court Circulars and Imperial Edicts mentioned the Order, even up to 1916, with the creation of a Hereditary Commander by Czar Nicholas II.
Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the deposing of the Romanov Protectors and the establishment 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 headquarters were then transferred back to Malta where it flourished under the protection of the Yugoslavian Royal Family under King Alexander.
It was to his son, King Peter II, that history entrusted the modern continuance of the Order, which remained uninterrupted until the German invasion of Yugoslavia forced the young monarch into exile. King Peter II was a descendant of both Czar Paul I and Queen Victoria. He 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 by promulgating a new Constitution and Royal Charter in 1964. It is on this basis that the accolade of knighthood is conferred. In 1965, King Peter II was elected as the 73rd Grand Master, an office he held until his death in 1970.
The Order in the New Century
In the 21st Century this ancient and chivalric Order thrives on its collective mission—the care of the sick and poor. It has a democratically elected leadership, continuation of the customs and traditions of its glorious past and the vitality of its 900 members in Grand Priories, Priories and Commanderies located in thirteen countries:
The Priory of the Pacific;
The Priory of the Eastern USA;
The Priory of Eastern Canada, Order of the Hospitallers;
The Russian Grand Priory of Malta and Europe;
The Nordic Priory;
The Priory of Austria;
Priorato d' Italia; Ordine di San Giovanni di Gerusalemme Cavalieri Ospitalieri;
The Priory of Sweden;
The Swiss Priory;
The Grand Priory of South Australia.
The Priory of Spain.
The entire organization operates through local non-profit entities created under the laws of their respective countries. Each Commandery carries out humanitarian projects under its charitable trusts, while promoting good works undertaken separately by its Members. Uniquely the Commandery of St. Francis retains the original Hospitaller tradition of caring for wounded warriors.
The motto: Pro Fide, Pro Utilitate Hominum (For Faith, For Service to Humanity) is upheld by all Members of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller. The Order strives to provide for the sick, poor and the needy worldwide to the best of its ability. Members work together to raise funds at events and projects, to support those beneficiaries and to encourage new candidates of merit to the Order.