The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem is more commonly known as the Order of St John. One of 5 orders of St. John, the order sprang from the Knights of St. John, and has a tradition based on the mottoes “Pro Fide” (for the Faith) and “Pro Utilitate Hominum” (for the service of mankind). The order encompasses the St. John’s Eye Hospital in Jerusalem, and St. John Ambulance.
Over 900 years ago, the Abbey of St. Mary in Jerusalem ran a hospital. In 1099, when the first crusade took the city, the hospital was in the care of Brother Gerard. It was recognised as an independent order of the church by Pope Paschal II in 1113. By the middle of the 12th century, the Knights of St. John had become a military religious order, maintaining the traditions of caring for the sick. The Knights of St. John in Britain built headquarters in London, until they were disbanded by Henry VIII.
The order had possessed headquarters on the island of Malta since 1530, but these were lost in 1798. This was a blow to the European order, and the British branch was revived by some members. The British organisation survived, set up the St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem, and in 1877 founded the St. John Ambulance Association.
The Association ran first aid classes, published books and ran examinations in first aid. In 1887 the St. John Ambulance Brigade was formed – a volunteer organisation providing first aid and ambulance attendance at public events. In 1888, Queen Victoria made the British Order a Royal Order of Chivalry, giving it the title “The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem”. The order spread through the British Empire, until 8 separate Priories formed, in Britain, Scotland, Wales, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Australia.
The St. John Ambulance Association and the St. John Ambulance Brigade merged in the 1990’s to form St. John Ambulance.
The St. John Eye Hospital:
The hospital was founded in 1882 and is located in East Jerusalem. It is a charitable foundation that provides ophthalmic care to all, regardless of race, creed, or ability to pay. More than 50,000 outpatients are seen annually and more than 5,000 major eye operations performed. About two thirds of the hospital’s income is from grants and donations. The hospital includes the Sir Stephen Miller School of Nursing, providing education in nursing and ophthalmic nursing.
St. John Ambulance:
This branch of the order consists of the old teaching and volunteer organisations, now merged into one. It is one of the major first aid organisations world wide, and its operations branch is responsible for providing free first aid at public events in over 30 countries world wide (but tends to expect donations from whoever’s running the event). St. John Ambulance also provides first aid training, and in some countries and states runs the official ambulance service. It is a paramilitary organisation – members are trained in drill (all that marching, saluting etc.) and have rank and uniform. The organisation also sells first aid equipment, and maintains first aid kits for various businesses.
St. John Ambulance Cadets:
Operations branch has a Cadet organisation for members 11-18 years old, and a junior organisation for children from 8 – 10 years. Cadets tend to learn far more drill than the adult organisation, and accompany adults to first aid posts at public events, where they are allowed to perform basic first aid under supervision.
The structure of the order:
The order recognises the British monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II, obviously) as its Sovereign head. There is then the Grand Prior (currently the Duke of Gloucester), and the Grand Council, consisting of the Prelate (Bishop John Waine), the Lord Prior, Deputy Lord Prior, and the heads of the 8 Priories.
And there’s a decent w/u on the very early movements of the Order by lascaris in the Knights of Saint John node.