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The Knight Hospitalers

Updated on July 19, 2017

The Beginning

The Knights Templar were not the
only religious order which existed
to help pilgrims to the Holy Land.

In the same year, (1113) the Templars
were created, so too the Knights of
Saint John of Jerusalem, (Knights Hospitalers).

They were popularly called the Knights of the White Cross, due to their emblem of a white cross on a black field.

Following the first Crusade, the Muslim rulers gave permission for a Latin-rites church to be built, as well as a hospital which would serve Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem.

The Purpose and Organisation

When the Crusaders captured
Jerusalem, Gerard de Martignes,
the head of the hospital, formed
the order of "The Friars of the
Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem",

which was recognized by Pope Paschal II in 1113.

The purpose of the order was to aid the pilgrims.

However there was a need to protect the church and hospital.

Raymond du Puy, Gerard's successor, turned the order into more a military organisation.

It was decided to have four separate classifications; the Knights of Justice, who had to be of noble birth, Chaplins, who handled the spiritual part of the order, Serving Brothers, who were servants as well as warriors. and Donats, honorary members who made large contributions.

As with the Templars, the Order amassed great wealth.

Defending the Holy Land

In the Holy Land, these knights participated in the capture of Ascalon in 1154.

In 1187, when Jerusalem lost to the Muslims, the Knights Hospitalers moved to Margat, purchasing the town of Valenia.

By 1190 they had moved their headquarters to Acre, where they built an extensive defensive complex.

In 1291 the Hospitalers were driven from the Holy Land and went to Cyprus. They protected the convoys for the pilgrims.

In 1308-1310, grand master Foulques de Villaret went on a special crusade which conquered Rhodes from the Saracens and were called the Knights of Rhodes.

Hospitalers vs Templars

In contrast to the Templars, who were visible and higly popular in Europe, the Hospitalers were occupied with the defense of the Holy Land.

They were unavailable to be used by Kings and Popes.

As they were far away, performing a vital service of capturing property for the Church, their wealth and property was sacrosanct.

The Templars, however, made the mistake of being available to make loans. They made one to the French King, who did not wish to repay, and colluded with the Pope to destroy the Templars.

In 1312, the property of the Knights Templars was given to the Knights Hospitalers, who went on to capture Smyrna.

These Knights aided the king of Cyprus in capturing Alexandria, defended Rhodes from attacks by Sultan Muhammad II until 1522, when Rhodes was lost.


The Knights Hospitalers had no base until 1530, when they were given the island of Malta by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  They were referred to as the Knights of Malta.

They built fortifications to defend against the Turks and in 1571,  the battle of Lepanto efectively stopped the Turks in the Mediterranean.

In England, the Protestant Reformation led to Henry VIII suppressing the English branch of the Hospitalers and in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte captured Malta during his Egyptian campaign, offering the  Hospitalers a deal; they would leave, and gain lifetime pensions, or face overwhelming odds and be killed.

The Hospitalers left Malta, and selected Czar Paul of Russia as their grand master, moving to St. Petersburg. With the Pope's agreement, the Roman Catholic order of the Hospitalers were now ruled by an Orthodox emperor.

In 1802, following the death of Czar Paul, the Pope named Tommasi as grand master, the last official head of the Hospitalers.

To the Modern Day

Subsequently, The Knights Hospitalers
moved to Catania, but had no Grand Master.

From Catania they went to Ferrara, and finally to Rome where the Order ended.

In 1827 French Hospitalers reestablished the Grand Priory in their attempt to revive the order.

In 1879, the Pope restored the office of grand master.

The Hospitalers became a charitable organization devoted to the care of the sick and the wounded. In 1926, an association of this new order was founded in the United States.


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