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Knights Hospitaller (The Knights Of Saint John Of Jerusalem)

Formation of the Knights Hospitaller Order

Knights Hospitaller
Knights Hospitaller
From Braun & Schneider-History of Costume
The Order of the Knights Hospitaller (or the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem or the Knights of Rhodes, or latter, the Knights of Malta) has its origins in Jerusalem.

The Knights Hospitaller Order was founded by Italian merchants from Amalfi. In the second half of the 11th Century,  Jerusalem was in the hands of the Sultan of Egypt.  Through their business and influence, the Amalfitans obtained the permission to build a house near the Holy Sepulchre. The house was to serve as a shelter for the Western pilgrims. They also built a convent for the Benedictine monks, and a church dedicated to Saint Mary.

The name of the Knights Hospitaller originated from the two great Hospitals attached to the convent, one for men and one for women. Each had its own chapel, one dedicated to St. John the Almoner, the other to St. Mary Magdalene.

The Knights Hospitaller and the First Crusade

During the First Crusade, the Knights Hospitaller Order saw a rapid development. In 1099, Jerusalem was captured by the Crusaders, and many nobles who joined the Crusade now devoted themselves to the care of the sick and the pilgrims in Hospitals. Important donations were made, the Hospitals being endowed with huge properties. Among those making donations was Godefroy de Bouillon himself, who donated his estates in Brabant.

Knights Hospitaller Order Structure

The Order of the Knights Hospitaller was fully structured under "Blessed" Gérard, when the members formed a fraternity of brothers and sisters, taking the three monastic vows, and wearing a black dress with an eight-pointed white cross on the left side.

The Order of the Knights Hospitaller was confirmed by Pope Paschal II, who also exempted the Hospital from the payment of tithes, confirmed all the properties it had, and gave the Hospitallers the power to elect their own superior after the death of Gérard.

The Order of the Knights Hospitaller was comprised of three classes: the Knights, the Clergy, and the Serving Brethren. The Knights were men of noble or gentle birth. The Clergy (or Chaplains) were in charge of the services in the churches of the Order, they visited the sick in the hospitals, and followed the Knights Hospitaller in battle, where they also undertook ministration to the wounded. The Serving Brethren were not required to be of noble origin, and acted as squires of the Knights, and assisted in the care of the sick. All the members wore the armorial bearings of the Order and enjoyed its privileges.

The work of the Knights Hospitaller was extended beyond Jerusalem, and Hospitals were founded in the principal seaports of Europe, where pilgrims were received on their way to Palestine. During the reign of Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, Gérard, the father and virtual founder of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller, died in 1118. By the unanimous vote of the Knights, Raymond Du Puy, a member of a noble and ancient family in Dauphiné, was elected to succeed Gérard. To him the Order owed its military character, and the organization combining the care of the sick and poor with the profession of arms, which characterized the Knights of St. John during all their history.

As the Knights Hospitaller Order extended, it was divided into nations or Langues, those of Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon, Castile, Germany, and England. All the members wore the black dress with the white eight-pointed cross on the left side, until Pope Innocent IV ordered that the battle dress of the Knights should be a red coat with a white cross.

The Order of the Knights Hospitaller was governed by a Council, presided by the Master. The council appointed senior Knights to manage the estates of the Order, and its affairs in the countries where it had possessions and convents. These officers were named Preceptors.

Knights Hospitaller Possessions and Influence

As it happened with other Orders, the vast possessions of the Knights Hospitaller gave rise to accusations of luxury. Furthermore, the Pope declared himself the protector of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller, and exempted them from all episcopal jurisdiction. This resulted in conflicts between the Order and the bishops of the various sees where it had convents and Preceptories.

The high influence detained by the Order of the Knights Hospitaller led to the selection of some of its members as ambassadors in important negotiations. Thus Joubert, a Knight Hospitaller, was appointed by the King and Patriarch of Jerusalem to visit the courts of France and England, to arrange a marriage between the Princess of Antioch and William, Count of Poitiers.

Knights Hospitaller History

The Knights Hospitaller as The Knights of Rhodes

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