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Bible Encyclopedias
Saint John, Knights Hospitallers of

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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(also called Knights of Rhodes, and Knights of Malta), a religious and military order, originating in the middle of the 11th century. Some citizens of Amalfi, while trading with Palestine, had (1048) founded two hospitals for the reception of pilgrims to Jerusalem one for men, and the other for women. The hospital for men bore the name of St. John the Almoner, a native of Cyprus and patriarch of Alexandria, who sent aid to Jerusalem in 614, after it had been sacked by Chosroes II. The confraternity who did service in the hospital was under the direction of Gerard. They displayed such heroic charity when Jerusalem was captured by the Crusaders, July 15, 1099, that several knights among them Raymond du Puy joined them as hospitallers. The lordship of Montboire, in Brabant, was bestowed upon them by Godfrey de Bouillon. When peace was restored to the city, Gerard and his associates pledged themselves to labor forever in the hospitals "as the servants of the poor and of Christ," the members of both sexes assuming as their habit the black robe of the Augustinians, with a white linen cross of eight points on the left breast. The order received the papal approbation from pope Paschal II, Feb. 15, 1113, under the appellation of "Brothers Hospitallers of St. John in Jerusalem."

A magnificent church was erected to St. John the Baptist on the traditional site: of his parents' abode. Gerard took the title of Guardian and Provost of the order, and built, for the accommodation of pilgrims, hospitals in the chief maritime towns of Western Europe; these afterwards became commanderies of the order. Gerard died in 1118, and was succeeded by Raymond du Puy, who to their former duty of hospitality and attendance upon the sick added that of knighthood, in opposition to infidels; and this soon became the principal object of the order. Raymond divided the order into knights, priests, and brother servants; and there grew up, also, a numerous intermediate class of sergeants (old Fr. serfgents, serving men), who rendered valuable service in field and hospital, and were, in course of time, assigned separate commanderies. The order, under its new organization, was called after St. John the Baptist; and Raymond exchanged the title of guardian for that of master. The title of grandmaster was first assumed by Hugues de Revel, 1267. The constitutions, based on the Augustinian rule, were drawn up by Raymond, and approved by pope Calixtus II, 1120. The great influx of members caused the order to be divided according to nationalities, or "languages" those of Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon, Germany, and England to which were added the languages of Castile and Portugal. The order became famous by its delivering Antioch from the Moslems, raising the siege of Jaffa, assisting powerfully in the fall of Tyre, driving the enemy from Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, and contributing to the fall of Ascalon, in 1153. Amaury, king of Jerusalem, bribed them, in 1168, to promise to violate a solemn treaty and engage in an expedition against Egypt. The order was nearly annihilated in 1187 by Saladin in the battle of Tiberias. After the fall of Jerusalem, it was established at the castle of Margat (Markat), the female branch of the order retiring to Europe. The Kharesmians nearly exterminated the order in 1244 at the battle of Gaza.

When the Saracens took Acre (1291), the hospitallers removed to Limisso, in Cyprus, where originated their naval character, as their vessels conveyed pilgrims to the Holy Land. Having conquered Rhodes in 1309 (or 1310), they afterwards made it the principal seat of their order, and were hence called Knights of Rhodes. They sustained there two sieges, the first, in 1480, under the grandmaster D'Aubusson, proving disastrous to the besiegers; and the second, under L'Isle-Adam, in 1522, ending (after a heroic defense of six months) in the defeat of the knights and evacuation of the island. After taking refuge successively in Candia, Messina, and the mainland of Italy, they were put in possession of the islands of Gozo and Malta and the city of Tripoli by emperor Charles V. They made Malta one of the strongest places in the world, and it gave its name to the order. They repelled attacks from the Turks in 1551 and 1565, and held the island until June, 1798, when it was taken by Bonaparte, the grandmaster Hompesch having abdicated and been sent to Trieste. Since that event the order has existed only in name. It was for a time under the protection of Paul I of Russia, whose reported conversion to Romanism led to his being elected grandmaster. The seat of the order was removed to Catana in 1801. to Ferrara in 1826, and to Rome in 1834. (See HOSPITALLERS).

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Saint John, Knights Hospitallers of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​s/saint-john-knights-hospitallers-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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