The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem is an international self-governing and independent body with its own Constitution.
The Order is non-political, ecumenical or nondenominational. Its membership is open to all men and women being practicing members of the Christian faith in good standing within their particular denomination. Its international membership consists of Roman-Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Orthodox, United, Old Catholic, New Apostolic and other Christians.
Its membership numbers approximately 7,000 members in Grand Priories, Priories, Commanderies and Delegations in the five continents. The Order’s traditional humanitarian activities are in the field of leprosy. It maintains leprosaria and dispensaries and sends medical supplies to various medical missions in Africa, and in the Pacific islands.
HISTORY OF THE ORDER
The Order of Saint Lazarus is an ecumenical organization of Christian hospitallers whose spirit goes back to the Holy Land and the Crusades. The Order looks to His Beatitude Gregory III, Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem and all the East, for spiritual support as the constitutional Spiritual Protector.
When the soldiers of the First Crusade reached Jerusalem in 1098 AD, the Hospital of the Confraternity of Saint Lazarus was already well established, having reportedly been founded by Saint Basil the Great before 370 AD. Some date the Order to the reign of the Emperor Vespasian (70-79 AD), some as far back as 125 BC and John Hyrcan, some even to the time of Simon Maccabeus. Certainly the tradition of care of leprosy sufferers outside the walls of the City of Jerusalem was an old one at the time of the First Crusade.
From the First Crusade the Order protected the weak and helpless. This continuing concern with the care of the people in deed made it a Hospitaller Order as well as a military one.
In 1115 the Order was reorganized under a Bull of Pope Pascal II. The Order became latinised and militarized and came to follow the Rule of Saint Augustine rather than that of Saint Basil. By 1174 the Order was a chivalric organisation under the protection of Baldwin IV, King of Jerusalem.
By 1149 the Order was established in France. Louis VIII gave to the Order the Commandery of Boigny in 1154; this is still the titular seat of the Grand Masters. With the end of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem at the fall of Acre in 1291, the Military Orders which had defended that last stronghold in the Holy Land – the Orders of Saint John, Saint Lazarus, Saint Thomas, the Temple and the Teutonic Order – turned their attentions to Europe and the islands in the Mediterranean.
Like other Orders, the Order of Saint Lazarus underwent many changes, including the amalgamation of its Italian branch with the Savoyan Order of Saint Maurice in 1578 (the resulting Savoyan Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus still exist in Italy as a Hospitaller Order). During the Protestant Reformation, the Order also lost both members and lands. For example, John Knox’s famous Church of Saint Giles in Edinburgh had been the seat of the Scottish Order of Saint Lazarus since the time of King David I, only to be lost at the time of the Reformation.
In 1608, when the Order of Saint Lazarus was joined to that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the octagonal cross was quartered of the colours of each Order, that is amaranth (purple) and green, and it remained so until 1778 when it was changed back to the original green, the colour which to this day remains the distinctive mark of the Order. The only vestige of the colour of the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Order of Saint Lazarus is the broad ribbon of the grade of knight commander which is green with a amaranth border.
From the 16th Century, the Grand Masters were always senior officers of the King of France. Several were actually members of the Royal Family. In the 18th Century, Louis de Bourbon-Orleans, Duc de Chartres et d’Orleans, First Prince of the Blood of France, was elected Grand Master. Nearly all his successors as Grand Master have been princes of the Bourbon Royal House, including Louis XVI and Louis XVII, Kings of France.
The Order survived the French Revolution in a somewhat reduced state, slowly reviving and growing through the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. With its expansion into an organisation of jurisdictions in such new territories as Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and elsewhere, the Order’s activity and work increased significantly. Today the Order has changed. It is still a religious order, but a secular one. It is an ecumenical order, open to all practising Christians. Women have come to occupy a place in the Order, and hold a knightly rank under the title of Dame. The present Grand Master, the 49th in the Order’s history, is His Excellency The Most Honorable Don Carlos Gereda de Borbon, Marquis de Almazan. Members of the Order, small in numbers by comparison with other such organisations, form a world-wide body dedicated to the ancient Hospitaller chivalric mission.