Domus Hospitalis – Jerusalem (1048 – 1291)
It is difficult to support and to love an institution if we don’t know its history. However, to condense the millenarian and glorious history of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in a few pages, is practically impossible. This succinct chronic recalls some of the principal events that have contributed to the historic evolution of the Order, from its origins up to the present.
At the beginning of the eleven century, the Saracens had already been occupying Jerusalem for about 500 years. In 1020 Caliph Dehara Ladimellah granted permission, to a group of Amalfitan sailors, to establish in Jerusalem a district provided with commercial quarters, lodgings for travelers, churches and shelters for sick people and pilgrims, often victims of violence and persecutions.
A monastic brotherhood of Hospitallers, which could be considered the initial nucleus, and certainly the most significant of the Order, was created for the purpose of managing the “Domus Hospitalis”, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, which gave hospitality to men, and the Hospital of Saint Madeleine, which gave hospitality to women.
In the year 1090, that “Sacra Domus”, was administered by Benedictines, their master was Fra Gerardo de Sasso, born in La Provence, according to some accounts, or on Amalfi, according to others, who miraculously had escaped death. He is recognized as the first historical figure and the first Grand Master of the Order, and was elevated to the honor of the altars among the Blessed Hospitallers.
Shortly after its foundation, the “Domus Hospitalis” became the focal point not only for the traders of Amalfi, but also and especially for the anonymous and destitute mass of people in pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the holiest place of Christianity. In 1099, at the end of the first Crusade (1095-1099), Godfrey of Bouillon reconquered Jerusalem, and Baldwin became its first King.
The “Sacra Domus” experienced its most glorious moments and began to develop a supporting action, not only in favor of traders and pilgrims, but also to the growing Brotherhood of “frates” which was expanding alongside all the holy places. This Brotherhood that had acquired its own characteristics and became an institution, began to act in favor of the Crusaders.
In the year 1100, the Brotherhood received donations from Godfrey of Bouillon himself, from Roger of Sicily, and from many other Christian princes. Those donations could be considered lawful titles of that sovereignty that eventually became the main characteristic of the Order, and made of it a Nation without frontiers, a Kingdom without dynasty.
By virtue of the pontifical bull of 15th February, 1113, and following acts, the Pope Pascal II approved the institution of the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, free from any civil or ecclesiastic authority. The little Brotherhood stretched beyond the borders of Palestine, and extended all over the Christian dominions, where authorized by the Pope, was allowed to receive donations and to found houses.
The presence of the Order in Jerusalem was especially significant when, upon the death of Fra Gerardo, a nobleman from Provence, Fra Raymond Du Puy, was called to guide the Hospitallers in 1120. He radically changed the plans, the strategy and the purposes of the institution.
The defense of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the blooming of the spirit of chivalry were the determinant causes that induced the “frates” to become “equites et servientes armigeri”. By the will of Innocent III, the initial hospitaller tasks were supplemented with military functions. It was an original fusion: military forces defending the Christian dominions, and hospitaller charity defending life.
The religious and chivalric structure founded legitimacy through the concept that to defend the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which God wanted, was a duty that not Christian could evade. The Knights, who had adopted as badge the octagonal white cross, fought for the defense of the ailing and the weak, for the pilgrims, for righteousness and justice. They were bound by three religious vows: obedience, poverty and chastity. The chaplains safeguarded the offerings and the “frates” healed, comforted and buried the unfortunate.
The King of Aragon, Knight of the Order, on his death bed bequeathed all his possessions to the Knights, living them in usufruct to be managed by the Templar Knights and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, who were protecting courageously the holy places.
Meanwhile the Knights took part in the 2nd Crusade (1147-1149) and partook in a particular way in the expedition against Damascus (1148). The Order replenished its reserves, opened settlements in many states, received properties all over Europe, and became the bastion of the Christian faith.
In 1187 Saladin, after having many resounding victories and conquering so many territories, crossed the Jordan river. Despite the brave defense, the Grand Master and many Knights of the Order, Templar Knights and Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, were killed in the vain attempt to stop the infidel from reconquering Jerusalem. The Seat of the Order was transferred to Margat, in Syria.
During the 3rd Crusade (1189-1192), guided by Richard The Lionhearted, with the military contribution of the Knights of the Order, Saint John of Acre was liberated and became the new Seat of the Order. On 1265, the Sultan attacked and reconquered Tiro, Cesarea and Margat; only the Crac resisted, a fortress built to resist sieges even for long periods, but finally it was lost. After an heroic resistance, the Grand Master Jean De Williers abandoned the last strongholds of Saint John of Acre on 1291.
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There is not doubt that the true vocation inspired by the exemplary life of Fra Gerard, and the international influence and prestige attained by Raymond du Puy, were the main determining causes in the fact that as earlier as the year 1170, the King of Poland authorized the creation of a Commandery of Saint John endowed with a hospital and a chapel. Always under the Polish Kings protection, other commanderies emerged in diverse places such as Svernik-Starolessve (property of the Montmorency de Ligny-Luxembourg family), Ostrog (property of the Ostrogski family) etc., which after 1310 became the Priory of Poland.
In 1609, Prince Janusz Ostrogski, owner and hereditary Commander of the commandery of his name, last of the line of the Ruridik dynasty, bequeathed his extensive estate to this Autonomous Priory and Hereditary Commandery.
In 1711, King Stanislaus I and Grand Master Raymond Perellos signed an agreement reaffirming the existence of the Autonomous Priory of Poland.
Particular characteristics of this Priory were that Commanders and Knights were not required to observe celibacy and that foreigners could be received in this Priory, “Suo Jure”, as Knights of the Order.
The invasion of Poland, and subsequent partition of its territory put under Russian control a large part of the properties of the Priory. To vindicate the rights of the Order, negotiations began at the Russian Imperial Court with Catherine the Great, being the Minister of the Order Bailiff Count Julius Renatus Litta.
A sentence of the 17th of December, 1899, of the Civil Tribunal of Saint Petersbourg, recognizes the hereditary rights of the Commandery of Svernik-Starolessve of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, said of Malta, in the person of H.R.& I.H. Prince Nicholas de Ligny-Luxembourg as the last scion of the House of Ligny-Luxembourg.
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In January 1797 the Order was recognized in Russia by a Convention signed at St. Petersburg between Czar Paul I and Grand Master de Rohan.
The terms of the Convention were ratified in August 1797 being Grand Master the successor of de Rohan, Fra Ferdinand von Hompesch, who conferred upon the Czar the title of Protector of the Order.
In December 1797 Czar Paul I of Russia accepted in a solemn ceremony this new dignity.
Representatives of the Autonomous Priory of Poland which never ceased to exist, together with representatives of other Priories and Hereditary Commanderies in similar conditions, gathered together in the United States of America during 1908, and in the presence of the Hereditary Commanders decided to organize an assembly of Autonomous Priories. Such assembly took place during 1908 and 1911, and as a result the World Union of Autonomous Priories and Hereditary Commanders was registered in conformity with the American Law.
On the 6th of February 1954 the Grand Council of the Autonomous United Priories elected as their Grand Master the Hereditary Commander of the Commandery of Svernik-Starolessve and of the Commandery of Bean-Toulouse, H.R.& I.H. Prince Nicholas de Ligny-Luxembourg de Lascaris Ventimille.
A sentence made by the Italian Court, on the 25th of June 1955 over a petition made to the Court, recognizes H.R.& I.H. Prince Nicholas de Ligny-Luxembourg de Lascaris Ventimille, as Royal and Imperial Prince of Cyprus and Jerusalem, as Chief of the Dynasty of Ardennes-Lorraine, which was the founder of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, as heir of all the sovereign rights of said Dynasty and as Protector and Grand Master, “Jus Sanguinis, Magestatis et Honorum”, of the Autonomous United Priories and the Hereditary Commanderies of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, said of Malta, with all the rights of the Dynasty, including the right of conferring or to delegate the conferral of titles of knighthood of this Order without any limitation of use of the corresponding titles to the beneficiaries.
A sentence of the Italian Court, of the 25th of June 1955 making a clear distinction between the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said SMOM, and the World Union of Autonomous United Priories, says:
“Evidently the Cardinals Tribunal (*) was intending to pronounce sentence only about the New Papal Institution and not about the ancient Order represented by all the Priories, whom instead, after said sentence, decided to proceed to the nomination of their new Grand Master, and on the 6th of February 1954 nominated for said dignity Prince Nicholas de Ligny-Luxembourg di Lascaris Ventimiglia, of the ancient Dynasty Ardennes-Lorena.”
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On the 25th of July, 1955, H.R. & I.H. Prince Nicholas signed the Decree of the new Constitution.
On the 3rd of August, 1962, the Hereditary Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of Cyprus, His Excellency Count Michael Paul Pierre De Valitch, pledged allegiance to the Grand Master of the Union of Autonomous United Priories, H.R. & I.H. Prince Nicholas.
On the 22nd of February 1966, the already aging Grand Master H.R. & I.H. Prince Nicholas signed the Magisterial Letters Patent regulating the succession process and instituting the Hereditary Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of Cyprus, His Excellency Count Michael Paul Pierre De Valitch as Grand Master Lieutenant General of the Union of Autonomous United Priories with the right to succeed him.
On the year 1968, His Eminent Highness Count Michael Paul Pierre De Valitch, in religion Lorenzo, took Holy Orders and was consecrated Bishop of the American Orthodox Catholic Church, Jurisdiction of New York.
On the 3rd of July 1977, Prince La Chastre, the Hereditary Grand Prior of the Priory of the Most Holy Trinity of Villedieu, a prominent member of the Autonomous United Priories, instituted His Eminent Highness Archbishop-Count Lorenzo De Valitch as Hereditary Prior Procurator General of the Grand Priory of the Villedieu.
On the 18th of August 1977, His Eminent Highness Archbishop Count Lorenzo De Valitch signed the transfer and the institution of the Magisterial See of the Autonomous United Priories in the City of New York. On the 23rd of August, 1977, the Attorney General of the State of New York, Louis J. Lefkowitz, granted Judicial Approval to the Union of Autonomous United Priories under the English translated title of “Federation of Autonomous Priories of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta.”
On the same date, His Honor Alfred M. Ascione, Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, First Juridical District, approved this act.
On the 7th of April, 1992, His Eminent Highness Archbishop Lorenzo De Valitch, Titular Archbishop of Ephesus, Prince Grand Master of the “Federation of Autonomous Priories of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta”, Hereditary Grand Chancellor of the “Sovereign Order of Cyprus”, and Hereditary Prior Procurator General of the “Priory of the Most Holy Trinity of Villedieu of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta”, victim of an illness of mental dysfunction was declared mentally incompetent by the Supreme Court of New York, and placed under the care of the Primate Metropolitan See of the American Orthodox Catholic Church, Jurisdiction of New York.
In accordance with the norms established on the Motu Proprio of the 7th of April, 1968, of His Eminent Highness Archbishop Prince Lorenzo De Valitch, which regulates that the succession of the Hereditary Grand Chancellorship of the Sovereign Order of Cyprus pass on to the Primate Metropolitan See of the American Orthodox Catholic Church, Jurisdiction of New York, His Eminent Highness Archbishop Prince Lorenzo De Valitch was discharged on the 1st of October, 1992, from His Office of Hereditary Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of Cyprus by his rightfully successor, His Beatitude Dom Lorenzo, O.S.B., Patriarch and Primate Metropolitan of the American Orthodox Catholic Church, Jurisdiction of New York.
On the 21st of January, 1994, de Motu Proprio and in accordance with the Constitution of the 3rd of July, 1977, of Prince La Chastre, who established that at the death or mental impairment of the Hereditary Prior Procurator General of the Priory of the Most Holy Trinity of Villedieu of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, the succession should rest on the Primate Metropolitan See of the American Orthodox Catholic Church, Jurisdiction of New York, His Eminent Highness Archbishop Prince Lorenzo De Valitch was relieved from His Office of Hereditary Prior Procurator General of the Priory of Villedieu by his rightful successor, His Beatitude Dom Lorenzo, O.S.B., Patriarch and Primate Metropolitan of the American Orthodox Catholic Church, Jurisdiction of New York.
On the 22nd of January, 1994, in the City of Naxxar, Malta, in front of a large assembly of Knights of the Federation, His Eminent Highness Archbishop Prince Lorenzo De Valitch was liberated from His Office of Prince Grand Master of the Federation of Autonomous Priories of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, by his rightful successor, His Beatitude Dom Lorenzo, O.S.B., Patriarch and Primate Metropolitan of the American Orthodox Catholic Church, Jurisdiction of New York.
For respect and affection to His predecessor, His Eminent Highness and Beatitude Dom Lorenzo, O.S.B. expressed the desire to use “pro tempore” the title of Regent of the Federation, without renouncing, hindering, diminishing or affecting any and all of his own hereditary rights, obligations, privileges and prerogatives.
On June 24th, 1994, during the celebration of the festivity of Saint John, His Eminent Highness and Beatitude the Prince Regent, promulgated and signed the decree of the commencement of an interregnum, during which the political and hospitaller structure of the Order should be reassessed to be properly updated according to the needs of the times and to expedite the return of the Order to the standards of its glorious pass. On the same date and act, H.E.H. The Prince Regent signed and proclaimed the actual Constitutional Charter of the Federation which will be in force for the full period of the Interregnum.
By a public act that took place on the 07th of December of 2002, during a Ceremony in the city of Bologna, Italy, His Eminent Highness and Beatitude Dom Lorenzo made the Lieutenant General of The Federation Count Sir J. Cosmelli, a Knight of Grand Collar and declared him as His Cousin and the Hereditary Successor of The Sovereign Order of Cyprus and of the Grand Priory of The Holy Trinity of Villedieu.
On the 22nd of October 2005, a few years after the decease of H.E.H. Archbishop Prince De Valich, during a ceremony that took place at the Royal Palace of Gödölö, in Hungary, His Eminent Highness and Beatitude Dom Lorenzo O.S.B. was proclaimed Prince Grand Master of The Federation. In the same day and during the said ceremony H.E.H. declared by Magisterial Decree the period of Interregnum as concluded.
On the 14th of November 2005, after a sudden stroke, His Eminent Highness and Beatitude Dom Lorenzo O.S.B. passed away in the Hospital of Saint Vincent in the city of New York.
In accordance to the Constitucional Letter of The Federation on the 12th of February of 2006, in a meeting of Grand Council with electoral purposes, that took place in Lisbon, Portugal, being present all of its members. His Excellency Count Sir J. M. Cosmelli GCC, then Lieutenant General of The Federation was voted by unanimity to succeed H.E.H. Dom Lorenzo OSB as Prince Regent of the Federation.
The new Regent, His Eminent Highness Prince Jose Cosmelli GCM, by His Magisterial Decree 01/06 of the 20th of February 2006 appointed Count Sir George Popper KGCM as Lieutenant General of The Federation, conceding him The Grand Collar of the Order of Cyprus, and they both started the vast work of reorganizing and renewing the Government of The Federation, as a State, and also of the structure of the Sovereign Order. On the same day and by His Magisterial Decree 01A/06, His Eminent Highness The Regent reactivated the Sovereign Order of Cyprus, also said of the Sward and Silence, one of the federated priories of The Federation, giving back to this Order its Historical duty and function of contributing to more Security in the World, fulfilling in this way the Historical Military vocation of the Knights of Saint John, also said of Malta. The rank of Executive Grand Chancellor of the Order of Cyprus was then given to His Grace Count Sir George Popper GCC Lieutenant General of The Federation.
On the 16th of September of 2006, in Hungary, His Eminent Highness the Prince Regent, appointed the first members of the New Ecumenical Council, being represented in this council several churches and religions such as the Roman Catholic, the Christian Protestant, the Jewish Faith and the Church of Eternal Life. Later a representative of the Moslem Faith was appointed.
On the 15th of November of 2007 in the city of Budapest, Hungary, a new meeting of the Grand Council, took place. All the members of The Grand Council were dully convoked in accordance with the existing legislation and 93% of it’s members were present. The Grand Council decided to merge the Grand Council and the Magisterial Council in only one body under the name of Grand Magisterial Council and with the same broad composition as the actual Grand Council.
By proposal of His Grace the Lieutenant General, the members of the Grand Council have also analyzed the results of the last two years of Regency and, by unanimity and applause, have proclaimed His Most Eminent Highness Prince Jose, the Regent, as Grand Master, ratifying by this act the decisions taken during the Meeting for electoral purposes of the 12th February 2006.
The Constitutional Letter of the Federation given on the 24th of June 1994 to replace the existing old one, was reviewed, updated and modified by Magisterial Constitutional Decrees in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The growing prestige and credibility, both as a Sovereign Order and as a State, as well as its active Humanitarian Work, support to Development and to Culture, the valuable Health and Rescue activities in different parts of the World, lead several prestigious Orders and institutions to establish friendly relations, – this is the case of Pro Concordia Populorum Order -, to sign agreements of friendship and co-operation – as with the Ecumenical Knights of St. John, Spain.