History of the Order

A Brief History of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem

The Beginning

The Order of Saint Lazarus had its origins in a leper hospital founded by Saint Basil outside the north wall of Jerusalem in the 4th Century AD.  The hospital was dedicated to Saint Lazarus when used in the late 11th Century as a facility to segregate and care for pilgrims who had contracted leprosy during their travels to the Holy City.

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The Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries

Gerard, one of the first Masters of another hospital within the walls of Jerusalem and dedicated to Saint John the Almoner (its dedication later changed to Saint John the Baptist), chose to take over the leper hospital in 1098 and is cited as the first Master of the Order of Saint Lazarus.  He became known as Blessed Gerard.

In 1099, with the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders in bloody fighting, both hospitals became part of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem under Godfrey of Bouillon who styled himself Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.  What followed was almost two hundred years of warfare as the Christian States fought for survival against the ousted but aggressive Moslem forces.

In 1100 King Henry 1 of England made a grant to “the lepers of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem”.  Further official recognition of the hospital of Saint Lazarus came by a Bull of Pope Pascal II in 1115, separating it from the hospital of Saint John.

The second Master of Saint Lazarus from 1120 to 1131 was Roger Boyant, who until then had been Rector of the hospital of Saint John.  Undoubtedly the two hospitals retained close ties and provided the early association with the knightly Hospitallers in what is now known as the Order of Malta.  Until this time those dedicated to the care and welfare of the Saint Lazarus lepers were purely Hospitaller and mostly monks, but with the steady influx into Jerusalem of crusading knights contracting the dreaded disease, the character of the Order gradually evolved to become military.

The Knights Templar, the first military Christian Order, had the policy for knights contracting leprosy to join the Order of Saint Lazarus with the Templars paying a pension for each affected knight’s admission.  As leprosy was rampant in the east at that time, a steady flow of knightly recruits entered the Order influencing its military nature.

In 1143 the Convent of Saint Lazarus was established at Bethany and accommodated the spouses of leprous knights.

It was after the second crusade of King Louis VII of France in 1150 that the Order of Saint Lazarus began to expand in Europe.  The king was so impressed with the Knights of Saint Lazarus that he took twelve back with him to France where leprosy was rife.  He granted the knights the Chateau and Barony of Boigny, which became the magistral seat of the Order and remained so until 1790.

In 1159 King Henry II of England became interested in the Order, which was established in England by a grant from Roger de Mowbray with a manor and lands at Burton Lazar in Leicestershire.

In Scotland the Order was founded by Royal Charter of King Alexander II (1214-1249) with its principal establishment in Linlithgow.
About 1157 Master General of Saint Lazarus, Raymond de Puy, a former Master of the Order of Saint John, adopted a green cross as the Order’s badge, green then being the traditional colour for hospital services.

While the Order became established in Europe, its activity and growth in the Holy Land continued with acquisitions in Jerusalem of a church, a convent, a mill and property near the Mount of Olives.  At Tiberias a chapel was built, more establishments acquired at Nablus, Ascalon and Caesarea and two hospitals for pilgrims established in Armenia.

In 1187 this admirable progress was halted by Saladin’s devastating invasion of the Holy land when the Order lost its main hospital and convent during the siege of Jerusalem and a contingent of knights perished in battle.
The loss of Jerusalem forced the Order to relocate its headquarters north to Acre where it built a hospital, convent and church.  For the ensuing century it carried on with its Christian Hospitaller functions, receiving many donations and endowments.  Papal Bulls favoured the Order of Saint Lazarus and gave it protection.

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The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries

For supporting the Sixth Crusade (1226-29) and the temporary recovery of Jerusalem, a grateful Emperor Frederick II rewarded the Order with holdings in Sicily.  Good fortune had its limits and in 1244 at the battle of Gaza all knights of Saint Lazarus in the Christian army were slain and Jerusalem recaptured by the Turks.  Some five thousand Christians were killed, including most of the Templars, Hospitallers of Saint John and Teutonic knights.

Following this disaster Grand Master Raymond de Flory began recruiting non-leprous knights to the Order.  Despite the dread with which the vile disease of leprosy was regarded, these courageous knights chose to dedicate their lives to hard and hazardous service with the stigma of associating with lepers.  Theirs was a true spirit of humility and Christian chivalry, while their courage was frequently tested when defending their establishments from Saracen attacks.  From this time new members of the Order need not have contracted leprosy.

In 1291 Acre fell following a siege by the greatly superior Mamluk forces of Sultan Al-Ashraf and Christian knights present perished in hand-to-hand fighting against the savage hordes.  Christian hopes in the east perished with them and after a proud presence in the Holy land for two hundred years, the green cross of Saint Lazarus fell at Acre.  It was restored temporarily in Cyprus and Sicily and then gained enduring recognition in Europe.

In 1308 King Phillip IV of France placed the Order under his protection.  During the Hundred Years War, the Knights of Saint Lazarus fought for their respective sovereigns and some were with St Joan of Arc’s relief force at the siege of Orleans.

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The Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

The Order’s military role declined by the 15th Century and most knights became rustic gentlemen, while the remaining hospitals were maintained by committed Hospitallers and continued to serve the sick.  However, the Order was often the object of argument and dispute between Rome and France during the schism; in 1489 the Order split.  The Pope sanctioned the Italian properties being taken over by the House of Savoy and the Order of Saint Maurice.

In 1608 the continuing Order in France was placed under a mutual Grand Magistracy with the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, newly founded by King Henry IV of France.
In France, under its Master, Jean Cornu, the Papal Bull was ignored and the remaining sections of the Order were taken under the special protection of King Charles V of France.  The disputes between the Papacy and the Order while established at its magistral seat of Boigny continued for several decades and the ultimate separation from the Order’s Italian priories came in 1578.

It was Grand Master Jean du Levis (1557-1564) who authorised the wearing of the eight-pointed green cross signifying the Order’s connection with the Order of Malta after several Grand Masters were also members of that Order.

This period (mid 15th/16th Century) found the Order at a low ebb and its priories in England, Scotland, Ireland, Hungary, Germany and Bohemia all were suppressed by the Reformation.  In England King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and similar religious institutions caused the expiry of the Order there in 1544 until some four centuries later when it was reinstated with Lord Mowbray as its Grand Prior.

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The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

While elsewhere the Order was being suppressed, in France the Order survived and grew.  In 1672 King Louis XII favoured the Order and handed over to it properties of other military and hospitaller Orders which he abolished.  The Order again prospered with the patronage of royal and noble masters and engaged in military exploits while providing invaluable Hospitaller services during the bubonic plagues, which ravaged Europe.

During this period the Order also had several maritime ventures off the coast of France and when war broke out with England engagements off the coast of Brittany were conducted by ships flying ensigns with the Saint Lazarus green cross.  In 1667 the Order’s squadron included four frigates plus corsairs.  The squadron was increased to ten frigates and the Order was given the role of coastguard off the Brittany coast.  Naval activities ceased for the Order with the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1668.
In 1772 as a result of its diminished religious character, the Order of Saint Lazarus was secularised in a Papal Bull of Clement XIV.  Although no longer a monastic Order its religious character was maintained through its chaplains.  By decree on 31 December 1778 the Order’s motto was changed from “Dieu et mon Roi” to “Atavis et Armis”, freely translated as “With Compassion and Arms”.

For several centuries the Order has been truly internationalised with members grouped all over Catholic and Orthodox Europe and eventually to dominions overseas.  When France took the path of the revolution, the Order was informally and illegally suppressed by the French Republic and the Grand Master went into exile.

In 1793 by the execution of King Louis XVI and the presumed death of his son, the Dauphin, the Order’s Grand Master became the future King Louis XVIII.  This exiled monarch travelled continually with some Knights of Saint Lazarus in his entourage, among them the Count de Cosse-Brissac, an ancestor of the later Grand Master, the Duke of Brissac.  During Louis XVIII’s travels in exile Tsar Paul 1 of Russia was admitted to the Order in 1800 and King Gustav IV of Sweden in 1804.  Portraits of King Louis show him wearing the Saint Lazarus breast star.

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The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

In 1807 Louis settled in England until the defeat of Napoleon and in 1814 reclaimed the throne for the Bourbons.  He relinquished magistery of the Order but became its Protector.  On his death in 1824 his unpopular brother, Charles X, became king and the Order’s Protector until exiled.  Once more the French State suppressed the Order, but a Council of Officers continued its administration while elsewhere hereditary Commanders ensured the Order’s survival in their countries. 

About 1837, with the Order being administered by a Council of Dignitaries and Bourbon Charles in exile and powerless as Protector, the Council looked east to the lands of the Order’s origins and approached the Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, Maximos III to become the Spiritual Protector of the Order.  He accepted and his successors have continued this role to the present day and so ensured the survival of the Order.

In 1969 the Order was divided by the creation of two Obediences, but in 1986 at a Chapter General in Oxford and with the influence of Patriarch Maximos V, the Order was unified and the Marquis de Brissac (the 13th Duke of Brissac) elected its 48th Grand Master. The Reunification however did not last and the Malta Obedience (so known because of its headquarters in Malta) remained separate under the Duke of Seville.

In 1979, the Paris Obedience of the Order established a presence in Australia,

The Twenty First Century
At the Chapter General of the Paris Obedience in Dublin in 2002, positive moves were made for a reunification of the two Obediences. The Duke of Brissac gave notice that he would retire in 2004 and that he would support the election of the Duke of Seville, the Grand Master of the Malta Obedience as Grand Master of a reunited Order providing he had resolved the concerns of the Catholic Church regarding his marital status.

By the time of the Chapter General in Toronto in 2004, the Duke of Seville had not obtained the canonical annulment of his first marriage and a number of European jurisdictions had proposed Prince Charles Philippe d’Orleans as an alternative candidate as Grand Master. When it became apparent that they did not have sufficient support for their candidate, they withdrew from the meeting.
The remaining jurisdictions of the Paris Obedience proceeded to appoint the Duke of Seville as Grand Master Elect and allowed him a further two years until the next Chapter General to resolve his situation with his Church. The Duke of Brissac offered his services as Acting Grand Master for the intervening two years, which was accepted with thanks.

The jurisdictions which had withdrawn from the Toronto Chapter General subsequently formed a new body with Prince Charles Philippe d’Orleans as Grand Master. Thus the Order comprised three Obediences:

    • The Paris Obedience with the Duke of Brissac as Acting Grand Master,
    • The Malta (or Spanish) Obedience led by the Duke of Seville.  It became known as the Malta Obedience as its headquarters were established on the Island of Malta, and
    • The Obedience led by Prince Charles Philippe d’Orleans. 

Over the next two years, the Joint Reunification Commission (JRC), which comprised three representatives of the Paris Obedience and three from Malta, worked on a new Constitution and a set of By Laws that would be acceptable to both Obediences.

The Grand Priory of Australia favoured reunification of the Paris Obedience ahead of merging with the Malta Obedience – particularly while the Duke of Seville had not resolved the concerns over his marital status. It maintained contact with the jurisdictions which had withdrawn in 2004 and which had now parted company with Prince Charles Philippe d’Orleans and formed an association known as the Norwich Group (consisting of Austria, England & Wales, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Romania, and members from New Zealand and Slovakia).

A Chapter General was convened in Baden in 2006 at short notice and with no indication of the business to be discussed. As a result, it was very poorly attended. The Paris Obedience representatives on JRC reported that as the Duke of Seville’s situation had not been resolved, his term as Grand Master Elect, and the Duke of Brissac’s term as Acting Grand Master had both expired and could not be extended. They recommended that the Duke of Brissac be appointed Grand Master Emeritus and indicated that they would administer the Paris Obedience and continue to work towards reunification with the Malta Obedience. Concerns as to the legality of these proceedings were ruled out of order by the Chairman of the Chapter General.
An Agreement of Reunification was subsequently drawn up by the Joint Reunification Commission and was formally signed by representatives of the two Obediences on 12th October 2006 during the Chapter General of the Grand Priory of America in Houston Texas. It was part of this Agreement of Reunification that the Duke of Seville was designated as the Grand Master of the “united” Order.

Many Jurisdictions including Australia did not support this agreement as they could not accept the Duke of Seville as Grand Master. This impasse continued through 2007, with the Grand Priories of Australia, France, Greece, Poland, and other European Jurisdictions including the Norwich Group, declining to acknowledge the Duke of Seville as Grand Master.

In January 2008, it was announced that the Duke of Seville intended to retire during 2008, thus opening the way for the appointment of a new Grand Master and substantially improving prospects for reunification of the Order world-wide.
In September 2008, a Chapter General was held in Manchester, attended by members of the Grand Magistral Council, Heads of Jurisdiction, Knights, Dames and delegates from around the world, including representatives of the Norwich Group. The Chapter General formally elected His Excellency Don Carlos Gereda de Borbón, Marquis de Almazàn as the 49th Grand Master of The Order, agreed to reunite with the Norwich Group and asked the Grand Magistral Council to address a number of administrative and constitutional issues which would help to consolidate the reunification of The Order worldwide.

At an impressive ceremony in Manchester Cathedral, Don Carlos took the Oath of Office in the presence of the Spiritual Protector of the Order (His Beatitude Gregory III, the Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch and all the East) and the Ecclesiastical Grand Prior of The Order and was duly installed as Grand Master. This was followed by the formal signing of the Agreement of Reunification with the Norwich Group jurisdictions.

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A Note on the Life of the Founder – Blessed Gerard

The family and country of origin of Blessed Gerard are unknown, but it is believed that he was born in Scala.  He first appeared in history in 1098 as administrator of the hospice of Saint John in Jerusalem, a house for sick and weary pilgrims close to and associated with the monastery of Saint Mary of the Latins, next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The monastery had been founded earlier by Italian merchants from Amalfi and was occupied by a Benedictine community.  Gerard may therefore have been a lay brother of Saint Mary of the Latins when he also became Master of the Hospital of Saint Lazarus outside the walls of Jerusalem.  He was present when the first crusade besieged and captured Jerusalem in 1099.

After the capture of Jerusalem and the setting up of the Crusader States, Gerard, as Master of the hospitals, presided over the foundation of both the Saint Lazarus and Saint John Orders.  He had the support of the Papacy and the new rulers of Jerusalem, Godfrey de Bouillon and Baldwin I.  Donations were made for hospitals in the States of Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch and Armenia and in Europe, providing for them to be set up as havens for the sick on the pilgrim routes.  These developments are thought to be attributable to Gerard’s planning and enterprise and led to the creation in Jerusalem of the two Orders for the benefit of poor and sick pilgrims, the Order of Saint Lazarus caring for those affected with leprosy and having in its ranks many lepers.  In due course both Orders became international.
The Blessed Gerard died in Jerusalem on 3rd September 1120.  His epitaph reads:

“Here lies Gerard, the most humble man in the East, the servant of the poor, and kind to strangers.  His appearance was not impressive but it was a noble heart that made him conspicuous.  One can see from these buildings how capable he was.  He looked to the future and achieved a great deal very effectively; he was busy with many things in many different fields.  He stretched forth his arms into many lands so as to obtain what he needed to feed his own.”

Another major contribution which Gerard seems to have made is the idea of the lordship of the poor.  To the Hospitallers, the poor sick were lords and they the serfs under the obligation to render that devotion and reverence that secular lords would receive from their men.  This idea, which proceeds from a deep insight into the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, can be seen as a reflection of the spiritual life of the founder himself.

Gerard’s epitaph mentions these two characteristics, among his other virtues, when it calls him “servant of the poor” and says that “he stretched forth his arms into many lands to obtain what he needed to feed his own”.
At the time of Gerard’s death a regular process of canonisation did not exist and he was given an equivalent title of Blessed.  He is venerated as the founder of both the Order of Saint Lazarus and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

His body was taken to Acre prior to the recapture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187.  Then, before Acre fell in 1291, the relics were transferred to Manosque in Provence.  Most of the relics disappeared at the time of the French Revolution, but some survived in the Church of Martique in France, and some in Rome and Malta.

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Saint Lazarus Patron Saint of the Order

The patron Saint of the Order is Lazarus (of Bethany) who died and whom a few days later Jesus raised from the dead.  This Lazarus was the friend of Jesus and brother of Mary and Martha.  (It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair.)  Saint John’s Gospel, Chapter 9 describes how Jesus relieved the anguish of the two sisters by raising Lazarus from death.  This was the last miracle prior to the triumphant but fateful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

However, the patron Saint of lepers is Lazarus, the described beggar with sores and subject of the parable in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 16 verses 19-31.  That Lazarus became confused in the medieval mind with Lazarus (of Bethany) above.

While there has been understandable confusion over the two Saint Lazarus’ with the Order being concerned with lepers, it is Lazarus (of Bethany), the friend of Jesus, who is the patron Saint of the Order and whose feast day is 17th December.

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