Visit to the Museum of the Order of St John


In September, members of the Provincial Prior’s Bodyguard and other Surrey Knights and their wives visited the Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell, London. The Museum of the Order of St John is one of the great hidden treasures of London tracing the continuous history of the Order that dates back over 900 years.

The symbol of the Order, a white eight-pointed cross on a black background, is an international symbol of First Aid. It is known as the logo of St John Ambulance, emblazoned on the sides of ambulances and on the uniforms of its highly trained volunteers. However, the eight-pointed cross was also worn on the robes of those first Brother Knights in the hospital in Jerusalem, and it has remained unaltered through the centuries, as an enduring emblem of humanitarian care.

Visit to the Museum of the Order of St John
By 1080, a hospital had been established in Jerusalem by a group of monks under the guidance of Brother Gerard. Its purpose was to care for the many pilgrims who had become ill on their travels to the Holy Land. The men and women who worked there were members of a new religious order, officially recognised by the Church in 1113. Known as the Hospitallers, they cared for anyone, without distinction of race or faith. After the Crusaders captured Jerusalem, the Hospitallers also took on a military role. They became known as the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

When Palestine was recaptured by Muslim forces in 1291, the Order moved briefly to Cyprus and then, in 1309, to Rhodes. The Order remained on Rhodes until 1522, when the Turkish Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, conquered the island.

From Rhodes, the Order moved to Malta. After a famous siege by Suleiman in 1565, which the Knights and the Maltese people survived, a new capital city, Valletta, was built. The Order’s ships patrolled the Mediterranean and remained on Malta until 1798, when the island was surrendered to Napoleon. The original Roman Catholic Order still has headquarters in Rome; its full title is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta. It remains a sovereign entity in international law and is engaged in international charity work.

We were shown round the Museum at St John’s Gate, as well as the Priory Church with its twelfth century Crypt situated across St John’s Square from the Gate, by a very knowledgeable and entertaining guide whose talk brought our ritual to life and helped us to understand our lovely Order better. After the tour we walked to Chancery Lane where we had a most convivial lunch together at The Knights Templar public house.

Many thanks are due to those who organised the day. Kt. Neil Bonter who had the original idea for a trip to museum a few years ago; Kt. Graham McGlashen who made the arrangements for lunch (and with his ‘knowledge’ as a taxi driver got us to the pub on time); and E.Kt. Miguel Godfrey who handled the organisation of the day.

Article and photographs by Chris Eley

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