Knights of the Order of St John

The Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem was the Catholic Military Order that was established during 603 AC. Their establishment reason were a hospital that was commissioned to be constructed in Jerusalem by Pope Gregory. The primary purpose of the hospital was to care for the injured and sick pilgrims who arrived at the Holy Land. They were also called Order of the Knights of St. John, Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St John in Jerusalem, Order of Hospitallers, and Knights Hospitaller.

Who Were The Knights of Saint John?

The members of the Order of Saint  John Knights came from all over Europe. However, the majority being from the countries of France, Italy, and Spain. The order was also known for accepting members from diverse backgrounds, including knights, merchants, and even former slaves. The diversity of its membership reflected the Knights’ commitment to serving the needs of all people, regardless of their background or social status. Despite its international membership, the order was organized according to a hierarchical system, with the Grand Master at the top, followed by the Knights, chaplains, sergeants, and finally, the serving brothers. The unity and discipline of its members were key to the success of the order. This helped to achieve its goals of defending the Christian world and providing medical care to those in need.

History of St Jonh's Knight Order

From approximately 1048, the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem focused not only on helping the unfortunate and the sick but also on developing ways to improve patient care and rates of survival.  One convent was constructed in Jerusalem and this was turned into St. John the Baptist’s Benedictine Monastery. The very first hospice was constructed on the site right next to it.

After the First Crusade’s victorious Jerusalem occupation, the group of knight was able to discover the hospice that Brother Gerard was running in 1099. The hospice used techniques that were rather advanced for its time. The facilities were kept clean, all residents slept in individual beds and the meal dishes were also not shared. These efforts led to exceptional survival rates. A group of the knights took part in the charitable works of the hospice that further strengthened what would become Knights of the Order of St. John. Through the Papal Bull, Pope Pascal II recognized the Knight-Hospitaller order on the 15th of February 1113 as a type of independent organization. 

This Knights of the Order then evolved to become a chivalric, Christian, sovereign military, and ecumenical order that continued to help the unfortunate and the sick while defending the Christians in the Holy Lands at the same time. The Knights of the Order in Western Europe embodied the Crusades’ essence that united religion and arms to serve if necessary for the sake of the Faith for Humanity.

Upon losing Jerusalem in year 1187, Knights of the Order then relocated to Acre, Palestine prior to moving to Cyprus. They were then driven out of the island of Rhodes later on after two centuries in 1524. 

Order of St John's Knights in Rhodes island

In 1309, the Knights Hospitaller moved their headquarters to the island of Rhodes, where they established a powerful state that controlled the eastern Mediterranean for over 200 years.

The Knights Hospitaller were known for their military prowess, and they were instrumental in defending the Christian world against the Ottoman Turks. They maintained a strong naval fleet, which allowed them to control the sea lanes and defend their territories from enemy attacks. They also established a network of fortifications around the island, including the castle of Asklipio or Kritinia castle.

The Knights were also renowned for their medical expertise, and they established a hospital on Rhodes that provided care for the sick and injured. The hospital was known for its advanced medical practices, and it attracted patients from all over the Mediterranean. They were also known for their charitable work, and they established a number of schools and orphanages on the island.

Despite their military and medical successes, they faced many challenges during their time on Rhodes. The island was frequently attacked by Ottoman forces, and the Knights were forced to defend themselves against numerous sieges. Despite these challenges, they were able to hold onto their territory for over two centuries, and they became a symbol of Christian resistance against the Ottoman Empire.

knights of the order of st john

The Defeat

In 1522, the Order of St John Knights were finally defeated by the Ottoman Turks, who captured Rhodes and forced the Knights to flee the island. The order relocated to Malta, where they established a new headquarters and continued their military and medical work. They remained in Malta until 1798, when they were forced to flee again, this time to Russia. The order eventually returned to Malta, where it still exists today as a humanitarian organization.

The legacy of the Knights of St John on Rhodes Island is still evident today. The island is home to numerous historic sites, including the Grand Master’s Palace or other castles. These sites are popular tourist destinations, and they attract visitors from all over the world who are interested in the history of Rhodes.

The Order of St John’s Knights in Malta island

Thanks to their possession of the strategically located Malta, it was able to help the Knights of the Order in keeping the seas open among France, Malta, Palestine, Italy, and Spain. 

When did the St John Knights come to Malta?

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, signed the Act of Donation of Malta on the 30th of March 1530 that gave the primary island and some tinier ones to the Order. The Order gave a yearly payment in exchange in the form of one falcon offered during All Saint’s Day.

Maltas’ Great Siege

Grand Master Jean de la Valette led 6,000 men at arms and 600 knights in 1565 as they countered 40,000 Ottoman Turks. They were able to drive off their enemy in spite of great losses. This as well as their Turks’ defeat during naval Battle of Lepanto where the Knights of the Order was also involved would prevent Ottomans from growing their empire further in the Western Mediterranean, slowing down their movement all over Western Europe.

The Fall

When Napoleon forced the Knights out of Malta in 1798, they were divided into smaller groups. As they moved into the Americas and Europe, today’s Knights of the Order is a descendant of the Russian Priories or organisation units of Grand Master Tsar Paul I following Fall of Malta.

Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in the 20th Century

The 1917 Russian Revolution led to the Knights of the Order being forced to relocate their headquarters all over again. The relics of the order were smuggled into the cousins of the Russian Royal family, Yugoslavia’s Royal family. The Knights of the Order today is based on 1964 Constitution of King Peter II of Yugoslavia. Right before Russian Revolution, differences in nationality of Knights Hospitaller was overcome and they decided to continue on to the US.

It was on the 17th of May 1912 when the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich sanctified the first ever Constitution of the Grand Priory of the Americas. The main principle of universal charity was laid out in this Constitution no matter what the class, religion, or race might be. The Knights of the Order’s militant aspect faded following their compulsory Russia exile and is currently represented by a single specialized Commandery.

The King Peter II Constitution got an amendment in 1998 to get rid of all the restrictions on female members. Since then, they filled most of the organization’s senior roles. The Order also unified again the Grand Priories in the Americas as well as Europe and they work hard to unite with the rest again over time. This has also gone back to its 11th century roots of aiding the unfortunate and the sick. 

Knights Hospitaller in the modern days

Originally, there were three Foundations for charity of the modern Order. The first one that became St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Foundation was founded in 1882. In 1877, the St. John Ambulance Association was established and their focus was to train the general public in using first aid. The St. John Ambulance Brigade was the third one that provided the general public with first aid care. It originated in 1873 before becoming a Foundation in 1887.

Do the knights hospitaller still exist?

The answer is yes. The St. John Ambulance Brigade and St. John Ambulance Association were merged together in 1974, forming the modern-day St John Ambulance Foundation.

The constitution of the Order underwent major restructuring in 1999. It introduced the new governing body named the Grand Council. Today, the Order consists of 33 St. John national organizations called Associations, eight St John national organizations called Priories, and St. John Eye Hospital Group with a main hospital located in Jerusalem.


Medieval Rose Association:

Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem Official site:

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About the author

I have been working in the tourism industry more than 10 years, gaining experience in tour operating, transportation and accommodation. As a seasoned tour leader, I am passionate about developing tourist services and making them unique experiences. In addition to tour leader job, I am also involved in digital marketing and article blogging. Outside of the office, I enjoy travelling, photography and enriching my knowledge with new skills.

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