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Venerable Order of Saint John

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Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem
Badge of a Member of the Venerable Order of St. John
Awarded by the

sovereign of the Commonwealth realms
Type Chivalric order
Day 24 June[2]
Eligibility All living citizens of Commonwealth of Nations, the United States, and Hong Kong[source?]
Status Currently constituted
Sovereign Charles III
Grand Prior The Duke of Gloucester
Grades (w/ post-nominals) Bailiff or Dame Grand Cross (GCStJ)
Knight or Dame of Justice or Grace (KStJ/DStJ)
Commander (CStJ)
Officer (OStJ)
Member (MStJ)
Serving Brother or Sister
Established 1831
Next (higher) Dependent on state
Next (lower) Dependent on state
Ribbon of the order

The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (French: L'Ordre très vénérable de l'hôpital de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem),[n 1][3] is a royal order of chivalry established in 1831 and found today throughout the Commonwealth of Nations,[4] Hong Kong, Ireland and the United States of America.[5] Its world-wide mission is "to prevent and relieve sickness and injury, and to act to enhance the health and well-being of people anywhere in the world."[5] It is often simply called the Order of St. John,[3] or as the Venerable Order of Saint John (VOSJ) to distinguish it from other similarly named orders.

The order's approximately 25,000 confrères, supported by 4,000 employees and 250,000 volunteers,[4] are mainly Anglicans, though other Christian denominations or other religions are accepted into the order, and honorary membership is presented to distinguished people of other religions. Membership in the order is by invitation only, except via appointment to certain government or ecclesiastical offices in some places. People may not petition for admission. It is perhaps best known through its service organizations, St. John Ambulance and St John Eye Hospital Group, the memberships and work of which are not limited to any denomination or religion.

History[change | change source]

The original order was divided into langues (tongues). These were groups based on the language that the group spoke.

The Order of St. John's biggest leap forward came in 1888, when Queen Victoria granted the society a royal charter,[4] renaming the order as the Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem in England. This was altered in 1926 to the Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, and then in 1936 as the Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.[6] In 1961 it played a role in the establishment of the Alliance of the Orders of St. John of Jerusalem, and thereafter finally received through a concordat in 1963 collateral recognition by the Order of Malta. The most recent royal charter was in 1955, with a supplemental charter released in 1974,[7] recognizing the world-wide scope of the organization by setting its present name. In 1999, the order was granted special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.[5]

Structure[change | change source]

Officers and grades[change | change source]

The reigning monarch of each of the Commonwealth realms is the Sovereign Head of the Order of St. John[8]

Grades of the Order of St. John:
Grade Grade I Grade II Grade III Grade IV Grade V Grade VI
Title (English) Bailiff/Dame Grand Cross Knights/Dames of Justice or Grace Commander Officer Member Esquire
Title (French)[n 1] Bailli/Dame grand-croix Chevallier/Dame de justice ou grâce Commandeur Officier Membre Ecuyer
Post-nominal letters GCStJ KStJ/DStJ CStJ OStJ MStJ EsqStJ
King George V served as the sovereign head of the order during his reign

Knights and Dames receive the award from the Grand Prior when they are touched on the shoulder with a sword and are given their robes and insignia. Post-nominal letters of the order are not used outside the organization itself,[9][10][11][12][13] except in New Zealand,[14] and a Knight and Dame may not use the prefix sir or dame, though they may request from their local heraldic authority a personal coats of arms, should they not already possess any, and have it adorned with emblems of the Order of St. John. Further, membership in the order only grants precedence within the society, which is as follows:[15]

  1. The Sovereign Head
  2. The Grand Prior
  3. The Lord Prior of St. John
  4. The Prior of a Priory or the Knight or Dame Commander of a Commandery when within the territory of the establishment
  5. The Prelate of the Order
  6. The Deputy Lord Prior or the Deputy Lord Priors and if more than one in the order of seniority in their grades
  7. The Sub-Prior of the Order
  8. Former Great Officers
  9. Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross
  10. The Prior of a Priory or the Knight or Dame Commander of a Commandery outside the territory of the establishment
  11. Members of the Grand Council not included above in the order of seniority in their grades
  12. The Principal Officers in the order of their offices
  13. The Sub-Prelates and the Honorary Sub-Prelates
  14. The Hospitaller of the Order
  15. Knights and Dames
  16. Chaplains
  17. Commanders
  18. Officers
  19. Serving Brothers and Serving Sisters
  20. Esquires

Precedence within each grade is dictated by dates of appointment,[16] save for those in Grade I who are either a head of state or a member of the royal family of a Commonwealth realm, another Commonwealth country, or foreign state, in which case they all precede the other members of the grade in the following order:[15]

  1. Members of the Commonwealth realms' royal family
  2. Heads of state from the Commonwealth of Nations
  3. Foreign Heads of State
  4. Members of other Commonwealth royal families
  5. Members of foreign royal families

Priories and commanderies[change | change source]

Following constitutional changes made in 1999, the Priory of England and The Islands was established (including the Commandery of Ards in Northern Ireland) alongside the existing Priories of Wales, Scotland, Canada, Australia (including the Commandery of Western Australia), New Zealand, South Africa, and, since 1996, the United States,[5] each of which is governed by a Prior and a Priory Chapter. Commanderies, governed by a Knight or Dame Commander and a Commandery Chapter,[17] may exist within or wholly or partly without the territory of a Priory, known as Dependent or Independent Commanderies, respectively.[18] Any country without a Priory or Commandery of its own is assumed into the "home priory" of England and The Islands, many of these being smaller Commonwealth of Nations states in which the order has only a minor presence.[n 2]

The Order of St. John is said to have arrived in Canada in 1648, as the second Governor of New France, Charles de Montmagny, was a member of the original order, but it was not until 1883 that the first branch of the modern organization was established in the country, at Quebec City, growing to 12 branches by 1892.[19] The Order of St. John today forms part of the Canadian national honours system, and the Priory, established in 1946 out of the Commandery of Canada, is the largest outside of the United Kingdom,[20] with some 6,000 members.[21] The Canadian monarch's viceroy, the governor general, serves as the Prior and Chief Officer in Canada, while the provincial viceroys— the lieutenant governors— act as the Vice-Priors, overseeing the administration of the order in their respective provinces.[20] These people automatically become Knights or Dames of Justice or Grace upon their swearing-into viceregal office.

An American Society of the Order of St. John was established in 1957 as a foundation to assist the order with charitable work, after 1961 focusing its efforts specifically on the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem and some other organizations aiding the sick. This branch was successful enough that Queen Elizabeth II in 1996 officially created the Priory of the United States of America, the seventh priory at the time, with John R. Drexel as the first Prior. By late 2000, the US priory had approximately 1,100 members. As citizens of a country that did not have the sovereignty of the Order of St. John vested in its head of state, American inductees who first joined the new Priory were specifically asked to only "pay due obedience" to the governing authorities of the order "in all things consistent with your duty to your own country," thus eliminating any question of loyalty to a foreign head of state superseding American postulants' duties as US citizens.

Vestments and insignia[change | change source]

Upon admission into the Order of St. John, confrères are gifted various insignia of the organization, each level and office being represented by different emblems and robes for wear at important occasions for the order. Common for all members except Esquires is the badge, consisting of an eight-pointed Maltese cross embellished in the four principal angles alternately with two lions passant guardant and two unicorns passant.[22] That for the Sovereign Head is gold with arms of white enamel and the embellishments rendered in gold, all surmounted by a jeweled St. Edward's Crown, while those for the officers of the order are the same save for the Grand Prior's having the crown made only of gold; the Lord Prior's having in place of the St. Edward's Crown the coronet in gold of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales; and the Prelate's having instead a representation of a Mitre in gold.[23] Thereafter, the badges are prescribed as follows:[24]

Badges of the Order of St. John:
Grade Bailiffs/Dames Grand Cross Knights/Dames of Justice Knights/Dames of Grace Commanders Officers Members
Diameter 82.5 millimetres (3.25 in)
57.2 millimetres (2.25 in) suspended
57.2 millimetres (2.25 in) 57.2 millimetres (2.25 in) 57.2 millimetres (2.25 in) 44.4 millimetres (1.75 in) 44.4 millimetres (1.75 in)
Material Enamel Enamel Enamel Enamel Enamel Silver
Backing and embellishments Gold Gold Silver Silver Silver Silver[n 3]

All Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross may wear their badges either at the left hip on a 101.6 millimetres (4.00 in) (for men) or 82.5 millimetres (3.25 in) (for women) wide, black watered silk ribbon over the right shoulder or from a 16.5 millimetres (0.65 in) wide black band at the collar. Male Knights Justice or Grace must carry their badges on a 16.5mm wide ribbon at the neck, and Commanders, Officers, and Members have theirs on a 38 millimetres (1.5 in) straight ribbon suspended from a medal bar on the left breast, while females in all grades may wear their insignia either on a ribbon bow pinned at the left shoulder or hung from a medal bar in the men's fashion, depending on the circumstance and clothing worn.[25] Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross, Knights and Dames of Justice or Grace, and Chaplains may all also wear a breast star,[26] which appears the same as their badges, only at a diameter of 88.9 millimetres (3.50 in) and without embellishments for those in Grade I and 76 millimetres (3.0 in) for those in Grade II.[27] Further, those in these groups are also given a button for wear on the lapel of non-formal civilian clothing, for events such as business meetings of the order.[28] In general, the insignia of the Order of St. John may be worn at all occasions where other decorations are worn, not only those connected with the ceremonies of the order.[29]

The Duke of Gloucester, Grand Prior of the Order of St. John, at the investiture service of the order's priory in the United States

All members of the Order of St. John are also required to wear specific robes for formal occasions of the society, including a mantle, sopra vest, and hat. The mantles of the Sovereign Head and Grand Prior are all of black silk velvet and lined with white silk, the former's differentiated by an additional train. Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross and, prior to 1926, Knights of Justice formerly wore black silk robes with a lining of the same material and colour; these members now wear the same mantle as Commanders, Officers, and Esquires, which are made of black merino wool faced with black silk. The only other unique mantles are those of the Medical Officer of the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital, which bears a special pattern,[30] and of Chaplains, which is a black silk robe with full sleeves. Each cloak also bears on its left side a rendition of the order's star in white silk: the Sovereign Head, Grand Prior, and those in the first two grades of the order all have a 300 millimetres (12 in) diameter emblem; the Sovereign's and Grand Prior's are of white silk with gold adornments, the former's also surmounted by a St. Edward's Crown, while those for Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross, Knights and Dames of Justice, and Knights and Dames of Grace are rendered in white linen, the first two groups having embellishments in gold silk, the latter in white silk. Similarly, the star for Commanders and Officers is of white linen with white silk ornamentation, though they are only 228.6 millimetres (9.00 in) and 152.4 millimetres (6.00 in) in diameter, respectively. The Secretaries of the order, the priories, and the commanderies also wear the badge superimposed upon two goose quill pens embroidered saltire-wise in white silk.[30]

The sopra (or supra) vest is a long drape of thin, black cloth that buttons close down the neck and to one side, falling to the ankles and cut so as to entirely cover the body. It is similar to a cassock, though it is actually derived from the supra vesta— a black surcoat worn in the mid 13th century by the Knights of St. John. Confrères in Grade I have a plain, white, 300mm diameter Maltese cross on their sopra vests, while members of Grades II and III, plus Chaplains, have a plain garment, though the wearer's Order of St. John medallion hangs outside the vest, 152mm below the collar. Clerical inductees of the order may, when officiating, wear over their cassock and surplice a tippet of black with red lining, edging, and buttons, a 76mm wide star worn on the left breast and the accordant badge suspended at the neck.[31] When full mantles and sopra vests are worn a black velvet Tudor style hat is included.[32]

Eligibility and appointment[change | change source]

The Sovereign makes all appointments to the order as she, in her absolute discretion, shall think fit,[33] though the constitution does impose certain limitations: the maximum number of members is set at 35,000,[34]

To be inducted, new members must recite the organization's declaration:

"I do solemnly declare that I will be faithful and obedient to The Order of St. John and its Sovereign Head as far as it is consistent with my duty to my [Sovereign/President] and to my country; that I will do everything in my power to uphold its dignity and support its charitable works; and that I will endeavour always to uphold the aims of this Christian Order and to conduct myself as a person of honour."[35]

Notwithstanding the order's devotion to Christian ideals of charity, and its official position that the order has a "Christian character," its Grand Council has since 1999 affirmed that "profession of the Christian Faith should not be a condition of membership of the Order." The issue of the order's Christian character and the issue of "inclusive membership" was dealt with in the Grand Council's Pro Fide Report in 2005, wherein it was said that the order's life is shaped by Christian faith and values, but that "[r]ather than the emphasis being primarily upon 'spiritual beliefs or doctrine' it is on works of mercy rendered through St. John"; therefore, while the Great Officers are required to profess the Christian faith, the same is "not an essential condition of membership" and "[t]he onus is on the man or woman who is invited to the privilege of membership to decide whether he or she can with a good conscience promise to be faithful to the stated aims and purposes of this Christian lay order of chivalry." On the subject of inclusive membership, the report stated "Christian hospitality is a criterion which can be applied to the Order's relationships to persons of other religious faiths," and "the Order needs to be characterized by a hospitable disposition towards other faith traditions while holding fast to its own origins and foundational identity in Christian faith."[36]

Order of Wear in each realm[change | change source]

As the Order of St. John is open to the citizens of sixteen different countries, each with their own system of orders, decorations, and medals, the order's place of precedence varies from country to country. Unlike with other multi-level orders, all the Order of St. John's grades rank between the society's predecessor and successor; some examples follow:

Country Preceding Following
Australia Australia
Order of precedence
Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) (if awarded prior to 5 October 1992)[n 4]
Conspicuous Service Medal (CSM)[n 5]
Canada Canada
Order of precedence
Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (GOQ)
New Zealand New Zealand
Order of precedence
Royal Red Cross (Class II) (ARRC) Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)[38]
United Kingdom United Kingdom Royal Red Cross (Class II) (ARRC) Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)[39]

Related pages[change | change source]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 For use in Canada, in accordance with the country's policy of official bilingualism.
  2. Those countries with Associations of the Order of St. John are: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Ghana, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Montserrat, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Saint Lucia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.[5]
  3. An older style of badge for Serving Brothers and Sisters is circular and silver with a white enamel Maltese cross on a black enamel background.
  4. Government House in Canberra stipulates: "All Imperial British awards made to Australian citizens after 5 October 1992 are foreign awards and should be worn accordingly."[37] Generally, foreign awards are worn after Australian awards and postnominals of foreign awards are not recognised.
  5. The Venerable Order of Saint John is listed in the Australian Order of Wearing to indicate where any awards within the Order of Saint John should be worn. However, the Service Medal of the Order of Saint John should be worn as a long service medal, after all British long service awards.[13]

References[change | change source]

  1. Elizabeth II 2004, p. 10, s. 3
  2. Elizabeth II 2004, p. 10, s. 2.1.k
  3. 3.0 3.1 Elizabeth II (1974), "Supplemental Royal Charter, 1974", in Elizabeth II (ed.), Royal Charters and Statutes of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (PDF), 5, Westminster: Queen's Printer (published 2004), p. 6, archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2013, retrieved 9 August 2009
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Who We Are". The Order of St. John. Archived from the original on 9 June 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Canada Wide > About Us > The Order of St. John". St. John Ambulance Canada. Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
  6. Elizabeth II (1955), "Royal Charter, 1955", in Elizabeth II (ed.), Royal Charters and Statutes of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (PDF), Preamble, Westminster: Queen's Printer (published 2004), p. 3, archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2013, retrieved 9 August 2009
  7. "Who We Are > About the Order > Structure and Governance". The Order of St. John. Archived from the original on 27 August 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2009.
  8. Elizabeth II (1955), "The St. John Statutes 1974 to 2003", in Elizabeth II (ed.), Royal Charters and Statutes of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (PDF), s. 5.1, Westminster: Queen's Printer (published 2004), p. 12, archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2013, retrieved 9 August 2009
  9. "Post Nominals & Form of Address". Royal Heraldry Society of Canada. Retrieved 9 November 2010.[permanent dead link]
  10. "About the Order of St John > Glossary". Order of St. John. Archived from the original on 26 August 2010. Retrieved 9 November 2010.
  11. Office of the Governor General of Canada. "It's an Honour > Additional Information". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 9 November 2010.
  12. The Australian Army (2001), Army Protocol Manual, Australian Government Publishing Service, p. AL1
  13. 13.0 13.1 Office of the Governor-General of Australia (25 September 2007), Order of Wearing Australian Honours and Awards (PDF), Australian Government Publishing Service, p. 5, archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2014, retrieved 24 March 2011
  14. "Order of Wear: Orders, Decorations and Medals in New Zealand | Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC)". www.dpmc.govt.nz. 2018-08-23. Retrieved 2024-04-12.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Elizabeth II 2004, p. 37, s. 41.1
  16. Elizabeth II 2004, p. 37, s. 41.2
  17. Elizabeth II 2004, p. 19, s. 18.2
  18. Elizabeth II 2004, p. 20, s. 20.2.a-20.2.b
  19. "Canada Wide > About Us > History > Our History in Canada". St. John Ambulance Canada. Archived from the original on 4 October 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Canada Wide > About Us > The Order of St. John > The Order of St. John in Canada". St. John Ambulance Canada. Archived from the original on 4 October 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
  21. "Canada Wide > About Us > Corporate Information > Priory Chapter". St. John Ambulance Canada. Archived from the original on 4 October 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
  22. Elizabeth II (2003), The St. John (Order) Regulations (PDF), 2.i, Westminster: Queen's Printer, p. 29, archived from the original (PDF) on 15 December 2013, retrieved 10 August 2009
  23. Elizabeth II 2003, p. 34, s. 5.i-5.iv
  24. Elizabeth II 2003, p. 34, s. 4
  25. Elizabeth II 2003, pp. 36–37, s. 7.ii-7.iv
  26. Elizabeth II 2004, p. 35, s. 6
  27. Elizabeth II 2003, p. 38, s. 9.ii-9.v
  28. Elizabeth II 2003, p. 39, s. 11.i
  29. Elizabeth II 2003, p. 33 s. 3
  30. 30.0 30.1 Elizabeth II 2003, p. 40, s. 15.ii-15.vii
  31. Elizabeth II 2003, p. 42, s. 19.ii
  32. Elizabeth II 2003, p. 41, s. 18
  33. Elizabeth II 2004, p. 12, s. 5.2
  34. Elizabeth II 2004, p. 35, s. 37.1
  35. Elizabeth II 2004, p. 32, s. 34
  36. Order of St. John, Grand Council Pro Fide report, 2005.
  37. Office of the Governor-General of Australia 2007, p. 1
  38. New Zealand Defence Force. "Medals Home > general medals information > order of wear". Queen's Printer for New Zealand. Retrieved 30 July 2009.
  39. "No. 56878". The London Gazette (1st supplement). 2003-03-17. pp. 3351–3352. Order of Wear

Bibliography[change | change source]

Other websites[change | change source]