The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem or Order of St John is a British-based royal order of chivalry, and is found throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, the United States of America and Hong Kong. While members are mainly of the Protestant faith, those of other Christian denominations may be accepted into the Order. Honorary membership is presented to distinguished adherents of other religions. Membership of the Order is by invitation only, and individuals may not petition for admission. It is perhaps best known through its largest service organisation, St John Ambulance, whose membership is not limited to any denomination or religion.
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 the so-called 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 the "The Old Jerusalem Tavern" public house, which occupied what had been the Gatehouse to the mediæval English Grand Priory.
The Reverend Sir Robert Peat, the absentee Perpetual Curate of St Lawrence 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 and 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 rival organisations co-existed for five years, until the disappearance of Mortara early in 1837, when his organisation also disappeared.
Peat is credited with being the first Grand Prior of the Order, yet there is no mention of this in any of his obituaries, and this is a claim which is disputed. W.B.H. wrote in the Journal ‘Notes & Queries’ January 1919; “His name is not in the knights' list, and he was never “Prior in the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem” : he became an ordinary member of that Order on Nov 11, 1830” 12th series V January 1919, page 23.
Following Peat's death in April 1837, Sir Henry Dymoke became 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 considered itself to be only 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. Thus began the modern myth of the Order's direct succession from the Order of St John founded in the twelfth century.
The British Order continued in its growth, and recruited the 7th Duke of Manchester as Grand Prior in 1861. The beginnings of the 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 St 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 official recognition in 1888 by 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, changed in 1926 to The Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. 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 is as the Sovereign Head of the Order.
While the British Order is ecumenical in membership and from its early days has had 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) through a concordat in 1963. The Christian ethos of the order is confirmed in the declaration that potential members must make, which reads in part "and that I will endeavour always to uphold the aims of this Christian Order"
The "Alliance of the Orders of St John" consists of the British Order and three other primarily Protestant orders:
The Duchess of Gloucester and 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:
The Order of St. John has at least five officers:
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:
Governor General of Canada and Lieutenant-governors are automatically appointed as Knights or Dames of Justice or Grace upon swearing into office. However, K.St.J. or D.St.J. post-nominal are only for internal use and members do use 'Sir' or 'Dame' by being appointed to this order.
There are approximately 5,500 active Canadian members in the Order. Membership is by nomination only and only a Canadian citizen or permanent resident age 18 or above can be a member of the order, at the discretion of the Sovereign Head of the Order on the advice of the Prior.
Members of the Order wear vestments 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, (also known as Amalfi) 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 black merino, like those of Knights. 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 linen, embellished in white silk.
A white enamelled Star of eight points without embellishment, worn on the left. 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 the Badge on the left breast in plain silver (an older style of the medal for Serving Brothers and Sisters is circular, black enamel background, bearing the cross of the Order in white enamel). 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 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.
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 of a commonwealth state, 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, but are eligible to register coats of arms with heraldic authorities. 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.