According to ancient tradition, the birthplace of the Order of Saint Lazarus was a leper hospital, constructed outside the walls of Jerusalem by the High Priest John Hyrcanus who ruled over the Jewish people between the years 135 and 105 BB. Letters patent issued in 1343 by John, Duke of (later King of France under the name John ID "the Good") attest to the tradition that the Brotherhood was founded in the year 72 AD.
Putting this fanciful origin aside, most historians agree with the affirmation by Pope Pi us IV in his Bull Inter Assiduas that the Order existed in 369 AD during the papacy of St Damasus I, when St Basil the Great was Archbishop of Caesarea. It is this sainted archbishop who is considered the legendary Father of the Order by virtue of his founding a large hospital for lepers near Caesarea.
Established since the fifth century at Acre and , the of Saint Lazarus founded their principal hospital at Jerusalem in 530 AD. Here they cared for and protected pilgrims to the Holy Places, and especially directed their efforts to the comfort and treatment of lepers. Their , or Leper House, was located outside the walls of the city near the postern of Saint Lad re, or Saint Lazarus, on what was believed to be the site of the ancient hospital founded by John Hyrcanus.
After the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders in 1098, leprous knights of the Orders of the of St John, of the Temple and of the Holy Sepulchre, and other sufferers of similar dread diseases, were placed under the care of the of Saint Lazarus. Because in most patients the disease progressed very slowly and because the hospitals required protection against the infidels as well as brigands and marauders, it was inevitable that the warrior patients of Saint Lazarus should convert the Order into a Knightly militia, as well as a brotherhood. For this reason the year 1098 AD has been considered the official birth date of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem as a chivalric order.
The Order was held in great esteem by the Christian Kings of Jerusalem, and by all those who came in touch with their work of charity and protection. Baldwin IV, the leper King of Jerusalem, was especially generous to the Order, but gifts of lands and kind were received from men and women of all ranks. So great was the military reputation of the leper knights that they were entrusted with the defense of the castles of Kharbet el Zeitha and Madjel el Djemeriah. But wherever there was fighting between Christians and infidels, knights of the Order rallied to the support of the Holy Cross. They considered themselves the "living dead", these "men who walked alone"; final death in the defense of the Faith held no terrors for them.
So renowned was the Order and its work of mercy that after the fall of Jerusalem on 1187, Saladin the Great took the hospital of the Order under his personal protection. The Moslem conqueror permitted the poor of the city who could not pay ransom to leave the walls of Jerusalem by the Gate of St Ladre and take refuge in the Hospital of the Order.
In 1191, during the peace between Saladin and the Crusaders, the Order established itself at the coastal city of St Jean d'Acre, formerly known as Ptolemais. In this location, the Order secured sovereign rights over a portion of the city outside its walls. Its members built a fortress-hospice and a church called the Church of Saint Lazarus des Chevaliers. They were also granted Saint Lazarus' Tower and the Church of Saint Lazarus near Caesarea. The Pope and other temporal rulers recognised the Order of Saint Lazarus as a sovereign power.
With the renewal of the war between the Christians and the Moslems, the Order gained added laurels, but at a sad price. After sustaining severe losses in many engagements, most of the leper knights of the Order were slain in the Battle of Gaza in 1244. Those of the knights who were not present at that ill-fated battle joined the Crusaders who remained to fight a forlorn hope. They accompanied St Louis IX of France in his Egyptian Crusade and took part in his expeditions against Syria during the years 1250 to 1254. When St Jean d'Acre finally fell to the Mohammedans in 1291, the existence of the Order in the Holy Land ceased.
Before the loss of their last stronghold in the Latin Kingdom, a group of knights of the Order established themselves in Europe. They founded hospitals, country houses, preceptories or commanderies throughout the continent of Europe and in England. The most famous of these were the preceptories at Boigny, granted to the Order by King Louis VII of France, and at Capua in Italy.
In 1489, Pope Innocent VIII attempted to amalgamate several orders, including the Order of Saint Lazarus, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and others, into the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Order of Malta. The Papal Bull to this effect could not be enforced owing to the sovereign tradition of these orders. This action resulted, however, in splitting the Order into tow major branches, that under the rule of the preceptory at Boigny and the other under the authority of the priory at Capua.
The Priory of Capua had been founded in 1211 and Pope Leo X granted it extraordinary privileges. From 1517 onwards the leader of this branch called himself Grand Master of the Order within the Kingdom of Sicily, and elsewhere. In 1572 Pope Gregory XIII united this branch in perpetuity with the House of Savoy. This Bull specifically excluded the Spanish branch of the Order which remained under the control of the Spanish Crown. The reigning Duke of Savoy, Philibert III, hastened to fuse the Priory of Capua with his recently founded Order of St Maurice, and thenceforth the title Grand Master of the Order of Saint Maurice and Saint Lazarus has been hereditary in the Ducal House of Savoy and the Royal House of Italy. This order has been conferred by HM the King of Italy without restrictions of borth to both civilians and military personnel.
It is with the senior branch. however, that we are concerned, the branch headquartered at Boigny in France. This jurisdiction had been founded in 1154 through a gift of King Louis VII to the first knights of the Order to leave the Holy Land. After the final fall of St Jean d'Acre, its commanders were recognised as Grand Masters of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. Upon and Beyond the Seas. The sovereign character of the Order was recognised by the Kings of France. and under their protection the Order continued to perform its sovereign functions.
In 1578, following the issuing of the Papal Bull of 1572, referred to above, the Florentine Francois Salviati, Commander of Boigny and Grand Master of the Order ruled that the actions of Pope Gregory XIII, in surrendering the Priory of Capua and the Order in Italy to the House of Savoy, did not affect the Commandery and the Order in Boigny. This ruling was affirmed by King Henry IV of France on 7th September 1604, when he declared himself by letters patent to be the Supreme Sovereign of the Order.
Other important branches gravitated around these two main jurisdictions. In England, the Master of the Hospital of Burton Lazars, founded in 1135, was Vicar-General of the Grand Magistracy of Boigny for England. The Spanish knights of the Order also came under the jurisdiction of the Grand Magistracy of Boigny. The Commander of the famous Covent of Seedorf, founded in Switzerland in 1134, bore the title of Master of Saint Lazarus. In Germany, the Commander of the Hospital of St Magdalene of Gotha was Provincial Commander; the Commander of Strigonia in Hungary was Vicar-General of the Grand Magistracy of Boigny for Hungary. From these examples, it is apparent that the principal European branches of the Order were grouped around the Grand Magistracy of Boigny. Thus Boigny assured the perpetuation of the sovereign existence of the Order.
In 1608, the Order was placed under a mutual Grand Magistracy with the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which had been lately founded by King Henry IV of France. Neither order was suppressed nor was there an amalgamation of the two; the privileges of the two orders were the same; up to 1779, knights were admitted simultaneously into the two orders; they owed allegiance to a common Grand Master; neither order lost its sovereign identity.
Under this organisation the Order continued its existence up to the French Revolution. Both the military and hospitaller activities of the Order continued during this period. Members of the Order expanded their Lazarettes for the care of lepers, while their confrères maintained a naval flotilla on active duty in the Mediterranean. The membership was recruited from the Catholic aristocracy of Europe; it was officially protected by the Kings of France although it was never a Royal Order of France.
Inevitably with the French Revolution misfortune befell the Order. A decree dated 30 July 1791 ordered the suppression of all royal and knightly orders. Another decree, dated March of the following year, confiscated all the properties of the Order in France. The Order of Saint Lazarus seemed fated to disappear in the welter of blood brought on by the French Revolution. The Order was saved for posterity by its Grand Master, the Count of Provence. Having escaped the Reigh of Terror, the Grand Master continued to fulfill the duties of his office from abroad. The creation of hereditary commanderies since the seventeenth century also insured the perpetuation of the Order, despite political fluctutations. In large measure it has been due to these hereditary commanderies that the activities of the Order have continued to exist during periods of revolution and persecution.
Throughout his exile, the Count of Provence as Grand Master continued to confer the Order of St Lazarus. During this period, the Emperor Paul of Russia and members of his family and staff were admitted into the Order. The King of Sweden was also honoured in this fashion, and the hereditayr commandery of Gothland was established.
With the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte and the First French Empire, the Count of Provence became King of France under the name of Louis XVIII. In accordance with tradition, established to insure the independence of the Order, the king resigned the Grand Mastership. For a brief time the office of Grand Master was vacant and the Order was administered by a Council of Officers. Eventually the Duke de la Châtre, one of Louis XVIII's ministers of state, was elected Grand Master and undertook the overdue reorganisation of the Order. In view of his major contribution the Duke de la Châtre can be considered the Father of the modern Order.
Following the Revolution of 1830 and the exile of Charles X, the Order lost the temporal protection of the French Crown. A partial solution was found when it was remembered in 1840 that at a Chapter held in Boigny in 1493 following the election of François d'Amboise, a mission had been sent to obtain the Pope's confirmation of the new Grand Master's nomination but, should the Pope prove unwilling to give such a confirmation, then that of the Patriarch of Jerusalem would do. At that time relations between Rome and Boigny were less than cool and thus the 1493 Chapter had renewed a tradition which went back to the times when the Order's seat was in the Holy Land by successfully soliciting the Patriarch's protection and his acknowledgement of magistral or capitular decisions.
Nothing was to prevent the Council of Officers which governed the Order in 1840 from taking the same steps as were taken in 1493. Conditions were all the more propitious because the Greek Melchite patriarch of Antioch had in 1837 obtained civil jurisdiction over the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem from the Ottoman authorities, and the Pope had confirmed the three titles. The Patriarch willingly agreed to the request, and he declared himself Spiritual Protector of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. For the next seventy years the Order was administered by the Patriarchate.
Although the protector Patriarchs cherished the Order, they had little time to devote to it. Thus the administration of the Order was affected and in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century the number of admissions took a downturn. The year 1910 marked a low point for the Order. It was then that Patriarch Cyrill VIII Ghéa decided to give de facto independence to the Order by transferring the chancery to Paris and entrusting the administration to the Council of Officers which sat there.
The next few years were a "grey period" in the history of the Order. The Council of Officers were elderly and vulnerable to the designs of certain individuals who viewed the Order not as a vehicle for service to the unfortunate but rather as a means to satisfy their own ambitions. Caught in the maelstrom of the First World War, the Patriarch protector was unable to intervene. Condemned to death by the Turks he fled to Egypt and died there in 1916.
The reign of his successor Demetrios was too short for him to get involved with the activities of the Order. It was only in 1926 that contact was reestablished between the Paris administration and the new spiritual protector, Cyrill IX. The Patriarch came to France accompanied by the Archbishop of Tyre and Sidon to meet with the Council of Officers.
The need to maintain independence and the increasing responsibilities due to the growing numbers of admissions as well as the necessity of neutralising internal dissensions and external attacks on the Order, led the Council of Officers to seek to lay down their stewardship and reestablish the Grand Magistracy. The long history of the Order amply demonstrates the ties which unite it with the House of Bourbon. Thus it was quite natural for the Order to turn to a prince of this house and offer him the headship of the Order.
In 1930, the Council of Officers, with the concurrence of the Archbishop of Acre as well as that of the hereditary commandery of La Motte de Courtils, asked HH Don Francisco de Borbón y de la Torre, Duke of Seville jure uxoris, Grand Bailiff of the Order for Spain, to assume the governance of the Order with the title of Lieutenant-General of the Grand Magistracy. Don Francisco, a direct descendant of King Louis XIV of France, cousin twice-removed of Grand Masters Berry and Provence, and second cousin of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who was later to distinguish himself on the field of battle as the "Hero of Malaga" during the Spanish Civil War, accepted the office. Through a manifesto issued in April 1931 he recalled to the knights the traditional double mission of the Order: aid to lepers, and collaboration in the defense of the Faith and of the Church. The Lieutenant-General worked energetically and successfully for the expansion of the Order, and this activity resulted in the restoration of the office of Grand Master.
In accordance with the Statutes and Regulations of the Order, the knights were asked to assemble in a Chapter General. This assembly was held on 15 December 1935, two days before the Feast of Saint Lazarus, at the Church of Our Lady of Missions at Epinay near Paris. Through a unanimous vote of the knights present or represented, the Lieutenant-General was elected 44th Grand Master of the Order of Saint Lazarus. With the consent of the newly elected Grand Master, the Chapter General appointed Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón as Coadjutor to the Grand Master, his father.
Despite the impact of the Second World War, the next seventeen years was a time of expansion for the Order. After the Allied victory the administration of the Order was modified. Even before the War, in recognition that his distance from Paris would cause a certain administrative unwieldiness, the Grand Master had created the office of Administrator General, to be based in Paris. This was doubtless a wise move but brought with it the inherent risk of bringing about a parallel government. While the Duke of Seville was melding ancient traditions with modern reforms in his Rules and Ordinances of 1949, the admission of new members strengthened the influence of the Order, its humanitarian activities grew and the Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem resumed his role as Spiritual Protector.
The Duke of Seville died in 1952. His son, Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón, who in 1968 became Duke of Seville de jure on the death of his mother but renounced the Ducal title in favour of his eldest son, Don Francisco de Borbón y Escasany, was Coadjutor. In 1953 he was named Lieutenant General of the Order and was elected 45th Grand Master six years later in 1959. Because he was an active military officer in the Spanish army and resided in Spain, he was unable to dedicate himself to the Order as fully as he would have wished, so in 1956 he named the duc de Brissac as Administrator General.
The geographical seperation of the administration and magistral seats of the Order, the first in Paris and the other in Madrid, became the source of much friction and misunderstanding. This eventually resulted in one faction of the government of the Order withdrawing its support from Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón and summoning a Chapter General of the Order with the result that on 20 May 1967 HRH Charles Philippe de Bourbon-Orléans, Duke of Alençon, Vendôme and Nemours, great-great-grandson of Louis Philippe, King of the French, was elected 46th Grand Master. Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón, who had strongly contested the Chapter's decision, was named Grand Master Emeritus. The validity of this election has been the subject of much discussion and remains highly questionable in the eyes of many.
Previous to this in 1960, as a result of the initiatives of Lt Col Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg, the English Tongue had been founded. It comprised the Priories of England, Scotland, Ireland and Canada, the Commandery of Lochore and a number of bailiwicks in the Commonwealth. Add to this the remarkable expansion of the Order in the United States, and it becomes evident that the anglo-saxon jurisdictions form a considerable constituency, the majority of whose members belonged to Protestant denominations.
Although commiting itself in theory to oecumenism, the official position of the Order on this issue remained rather hazy. The Duke of Nemours saw the wisdom of change and opened the ranks of Saint Lazarus to all Christian denominations.
This reform, which was the most important change instituted by the Duke of Nemours, was badly received by the officers in Paris. They resisted the Grand Master's authority, which they viewed as an infringement of their own rights. A situation similar to that which resulted in the departure of Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón soon came about. On 15 April 1969 the illegal Chapter General headed by the duc de Brissac, Adminsitrator General, unilaterally elected him supreme head of the Order.
This unfortunate and illegal action created a schism in the Order. There were now two branches, but a great number of jurisdictions continued to view the Duke of Nemours as the only legitimate Grand Master. In view of the new situation in France and in order to guarantee the Order international status and independence, the Duke of Nemours decided to transfer the Grand Chancery of the Order to the island of Malta. HRH Prince Michel de Bourbon-Orléans, son of HRH the Count of Paris, was named Coadjutor. The Grand Master continued to work effectively for the Order until his death on 10 March 1970.
The vacancy in the magistracy continued for some time, as Prince Michel did not take up his rights to the succession. Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón graciously consented to reassume the Grand Magistracy in 1973 as 47th Grand Master.
While each branch of the Order followed its own course, many knights from either side became even more concerned about the situation which was prejudicial to its prestige, diluted its good work and gave ammunition to its detractors. Partisans of reunification from both sides of the Order negotiated the conditions with prudence and determination. Bi-partite commissions submitted their recommendations to their respective authorities. These led to a Protocol of Agreement which was signed by the heads of each branch in 1979. In a spirit of knightly confraternity, it was decided that each side would give up its vain quarrels and would work to achieve reunification. Each side, however, would retain its structure and identity. That governed by Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón would be known as the "Malta Obedience", and that of the duc de Brissac would be known as the "Paris Obedience". The spiritual unity of the Order was to be assured by HB Patriarch Maximos V Hakim.
Members on each side worked hard for reunification. The 1986 triennial Grand Magistral Council of the Malta Obedience was due to be held in Oxford, England. So certain were the authorities that the goal of reunification would be attained at last that this proposed meeting was renamed the Joint International Reunion. Unfortunately no-one seemed to be particularly aware that the United States jursidictions of the Malta Obedience, headed by their Grand Prior, Dr Hans von Leden, had a hidden agenda of their own. Contrary to the express wishes of Grand Master Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón, the culmination of the Oxford meeting was a Chapter General to elect a grand master for the unified Order. The three candidates put to the assembled knights were Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón, the marquis de Brissac (son the Grand Master of the Paris Obedience) and the Prince of Lippe. The anglo-saxon jurisdictions, nominally loyal to Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón, put their considerable voting power behind the marquis de Brissac, who was elected as 48th Grand Master. Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón and the duc de Brissac were immediately elected Grand Masters Emeritus.
Once again the Order was split, but this time with different allegiances. The Paris Obedience and the anglo-saxon jurisdictions of the Malta Obedience supported the marquis de Brissac whilst the remainder of the Malta Obedience still looked to Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón as their Grand Master. With hindsight the defection of the anglo-saxon jurisdictions, led by Dr Hans von Leden, had obviously been planned for some time before the Oxford meeting. One can only assume that the Americans, aware that under Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón the Order was governed by the "old" aristocracy of Europe, decided to throw their lot in with the Paris Obedience where there large numbers would give them a considerable numerical advantage in any future government. Nevertheless it remains that Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón specifically forbade all members of the Malta Obedience to attend the illegal Chapter General and any who did so were flouting their knightly vows of obedience.
Since 1986 the tide seems to be flowing in favour of Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón. Several jurisdictions have rejoined the Malta Obedience and the Grand Bailiwick of England has been reformed. It is regrettable that the Paris Obedience in the United States have fraudulently represented themselves as having exclusive right to the name and insignia of the Order of St Lazarus. They have duped the American Courts into believing the veracity of their claims but it is hoped that in due course these claims will be shown to be baseless by the re-established Grand Bailiwick of America.
Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y Borbón died in late 1995. He was succeeded by his son, Don Francisco de Borbón y de Escasany, Duke of Seville, who was declared 48th Grand Master of the Order in January 1996.
In recent years the expansion of the Order and its humanitarian activities have taken a new direction. Aid to the handicapped and to the aged has been added to the Order's pursuit of its traditional mission in the field of leprosy. In New Zealand the Order is directly involved in Pacific-area programmes against leprosy and donates medical supplies to various island leprosaria. In addition, the Order has purchased land and established two Saint Lazarus Villages for old people. The Grand Priory of Finland/Sweden operates a Special Volunteer Ambulance Corps for young drug addicts and directly supports a medical and religious mission in Mugaea, Kenya. The Grand Priory of Alsace operates and supports various dispensaries in Cameroon as well as a leprosarium. The Hungary Priory in Exile supports a Hungarian Mission Hospital in Taiwan as well as a school for handicapped children there. Among the more noteworthy projects undertaken by the Order were those of the German and Luxembourg jursidictions. In the early 1980's these two organised weekly transports to Poland of basic food and medical supplies in the Order's own 38-ton trucks. These same trucks have latterly been seen delivering badly needed supplies to refugees of the Balkan conflicts.