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THE ORDER OF THE HOSPITAL OF
ST. JOHN OF JERUSALEM
1. The Knights of Malta. By Col. WHITWORTH PORTER. 1858. 2. The Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. By H. W.
FINCHAM. Collingridge. 1915. 3. Malta and the Knights Hospitallers. By Rev. W. K. R.
BEDFORD. 1894. 4. Rhodes of the Knights. By BARON DE BELABRE. Oxford. i 1908.
TT is singular that even at this moment, when the eight1 pointed White Cross of St. John on its black ground is seen everywhere beside the Red Cross of Geneva, few among the general public appear to realise that the Order of St. John of Jerusalem is the most ancient of nursing Orders; and that the St. John Ambulance Association of 1877, and the St. John Ambulance Brigade of 1887, which taught ' First Aid' to the wounded in times of peace, and have done such magnificent work since in times of war, are but the children of an Order older than the Crusades. For the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, commonly known as Knights Hospitallers, formed the first of those Orders of Chivalry founded in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, to be followed by the Knights Templars, the Teutonic Knights and others. These all disappeared in course of time. But the ancient Order of St. John of Jerusalem has lived on through many vicissitudes ; until at this day its beneficent work for suffering humanity is on a scale far beyond all that could have been dreamt of, even ten years ago.
From the time that the Empress Helena founded the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, in the third century, pilgrimages to the Holy Land became more and more frequent. And as long as the Christian Emperors of Constantinople maintained their rule over Palestine, pilgrims were encouraged, and it is evident that some sort of hospital existed in Jerusalem for their benefit. Moreover when the power of Islam swept over the Holy Land, and the Byzantine Empire in Asia
VOL. 236., NO. 462,,
crumbled before it, the hospital and the pilgrimages were still tolerated, for the pilgrims brought considerable gain to the country. It must, however, be acknowledged that, during the many contests between the Caliphs of Bagdad and the Caliphs of Egypt for the sovereignty of the Holy Land, the unfortunate pilgrims were constantly plundered, and often murdered, by one or other faction of their so-called protectors.
A very considerable trade has always existed between Western Europe and the Levant. And ' some of these pilgrims 'combined the profits of commerce with their holier object, 'and those who were thus able to establish business relations ' with the rulers of the neighbouring provinces had it often in 'their power to befriend their less fortunate brethren.' (Porter, p. 8.) Among these pilgrim traders, the merchants of Amalfi obtained permission to build a hospital in Jerusalem for the use of sick and poor Latin pilgrims. The Mahommedan Governor of the city, under the orders of the Caliph Montaser Billah, assigned a site to these good men close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre ; and here they erected a church dedicated to the Virgin, called Santa Maria ad Latinos, to distinguish it from the other existing Greek churches—the church being served by Benedictine monks. This work was finished between A.D. 1014-1023, according to a charter given for the re-endowment of the church and monastery by Melek Muzaffer in 1023.* Furthermore, between this time and the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders in 1099, two hospitals were built for pilgrims, one for men, the other for women. That for women was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. The other to St. John Eleemon or the Almoner. This name was changed laterthe date is uncertain—to St. John the Baptist. And as the establishment of the pious merchants of Amalfi grew and prospered, many pilgrims stayed on in Jerusalem, and without any religious profession they devoted themselves to the work of the hospitals.
Grateful pilgrims on their return spread far and wide the reputation of the Jerusalem hospitals, so that contributions flowed in from every quarter, and their utility was greatly extended.
* This charter and date were certified by Captain Conder, R.E., of the Palestine Exploration Fund. The usual date being given as A.D. 1048.
Such was the establishment from which the Order of St. John. eventually sprang.' (Porter, p. 8.)
This fraternity called themselves the Brothers of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. The first head of the brotherhood, known as the Rector, was Brother Gerard, who is described in Vertot’s ‘Knights of Malta' as 'Fondateur de l'Ordre de
St. Jean de Jérusalem, 1090.' And so important had the Brotherhood become, that they now constituted themselves an Order of Military Knights for the protection of the pilgrims, founding hospitals and building castles along the various Pilgrims' ways to the Holy City. The chief hospital of the Order in Jerusalem covered a large space of ground, close, as we have said, to the Holy Sepulchre. A plan of the building, made under the Palestine Exploration Fund, shows that it contained three churches, and that the halls were so large as to need three and four rows of columns to support the roofs.
But after the Mahommedan caliphs had ruled for four centuries, they were in their turn overpowered by a fierce horde of barbarians, the Turcomans from the wild regions beyond the Caspian Sea, and the Holy Land soon fell into these savage hands. If the Christian pilgrims had endured much under Mahommedan tyranny their fate was far worse now. The tribute they had always been bound to pay for the privilege of visiting Jerusalem was enormously increased, while they suffered every kind of atrocity. A journey to Jerusalem was one of the greatest possible peril; and those who escaped brought back such tales of terror, that a strong sense of horror and indignation was gradually aroused throughout Europe.
The climax was reached in 1093, when Peter the Hermit, returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, determined to devote himself to the suppression of the cruelties he had witnessed. Armed with letters from the Greek Patriarch Simeon, and Gerard, Rector of the Hospital of St. John, he went to Rome and pleaded his cause in person with Urban II. * The religious enthusiasm of Europe was aroused to a pitch • of frenzy, and vast armaments assembled from all quarters
and poured eastwards.' Thus began that wonderful movement of the Crusades of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
When Godefroi de Bouillon captured Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, the Hospital of St. John was already in full working order. Many of the Crusaders and rich pilgrims bestowed
upon it their possessions in the various countries from which they came. And when, in 1118, Raymond de Puy succeeded Brother Gerard, he took the title of Grand-Master, and with the sanction of Pope Pascal II. compiled rules for the Order.
It must be remembered that the Knight of those days was the representative of the highest attainable civilisation, sanctioned at the same time by the Church. When he came to man's estate and received the dignity of Knighthood, he fasted and prayed, confessed his sins, received Holy Communion, and in the church itself was girded with his sword, his spurs buckled on, while some noble Knight giving him the accolade admitted him to the rank of Knight, after he had solemnly sworn to be the champion of his God and of women, to speak the truth, to succour the distressed, to maintain the right, to be courteous and brave.
The Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem very early became one of extreme importance and popularity in its threefold character, tending the sick, succouring pious pilgrims, and defending the Holy City against the infidel. By the rules of the Order, the Knights were divided into seven langues or divisions, representing the various countries to which they belonged and in which their lands and revenues lay. These were Italy, Aragon, Provence, Auvergne, France, England and Germany. To these an eighth langue, Castile, was added when the kingdom of Aragon was divided.
The banner of the Order was a plain white cross on a red ground. A black robe, with a white eight-pointed cross on the left breast, was the conventual habit of the Knight. But when fighting, as they usually were—for the Knights were a warlike body,-they wore a red tunic over their armour with a large plain white cross on the front, like that on the banner. Both these costumes are seen in the two portraits by Pinturicchio, in Siena Cathedral, of the Italian knight Alberto Arringhieri, which Mr. Fincham, sub-librarian of the Order, has included in the excellent illustrations of his book.
The nursing sisters of the Order wore a red dress, with a black robe over it bearing the eight-pointed white cross : but as a sign of mourning after the loss of Rhodes in 1522, they gave up the red dress for black. In the Chapter Hall of St. John's Gate, an old and charming picture may be seen of St. Ubaldesca, a sister of the Order of St. John, in her black habit over white,