The origins of the Order of St John can be traced to an 11th century hospital - the Hospital of St John in Jerusalem. In 1113 the people who administered this hospital were formed into a religious Order. Soon after, they took on military duties and became known as Knights Hospitallers.
That Order, which exists today, is now commonly called the Order of Malta. It recruited members and owned property throughout Western Europe. The Order's principal property in Scotland was at Torphichen, in West Lothian. Being Roman Catholic, the Order ceased to function in the British Isles at the time of the Reformation.
In the first half of the 19th century a group of people set out to revive the Order of Malta in the United Kingdom but ultimately formed themselves into a separate organisation which they called the Order of St John. In 1877 they founded the St John Ambulance Association, whose role was to provide training in first aid and similar activities. Ten years later the St John Ambulance Brigade was created, as a uniformed body of trained volunteers to provide first aid cover for the public. In 1968 it was decided to merge the Ambulance Association and Brigade into "St John Ambulance", to allow closer co-ordination of the two roles of training and public duty.
In 1882, as a further means of providing to those in need and recognising its origins, the Order opened a hospital in Jerusalem. This was to care for eye disease, prevalent in the Middle East. (At that time, Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.)
In 1888, Queen Victoria made the Order a Royal Order of Chivalry with the monarch as its Sovereign Head. Since then the Grand Prior has always been a member of the Royal Family. Today the Order of St John functions throughout the United Kingdom, in many other Commonwealth countries, in the United States of America and at the hospital in Jerusalem.
In its early years, the Order provided training in first aid and related subjects in Scotland, as in other parts of the United Kingdom. However, the Scottish based St Andrew's Ambulance Association existed to undertake identical activities, both in Scotland and England. In 1908 it was agreed that St Andrew's would cease first aid training south of the border and St John north of it.
In the 1940s, some of its members felt there was scope for the Order to undertake a variety of public services in Scotland. In 1947, the Scottish Priory of the Order was formed and since then, from a standing start, it has achieved remarkable success in meeting a wide diversity of need. Over the years the Priory has responded to changes to some of these needs brought about by developments such as the creation and evolution of the National Health Service. More recently it has extended its support to mountain rescue teams in Scotland through the provision of vehicles and bases and has funded minibuses for other needy organisations. A brief history of the Priory of Scotland was published to mark its 50th anniversary.
Today in Scotland the Priory provides, among other things, a palliative care clinic and unit, sheltered residential accommodation, and a holiday/respite home for disabled people and their carers. A branch of St John Cadets provides an outlet for the enthusiasm of its young members. Also, the Priory supports many local initiatives which provide services and supplies for people of all ages who are ill, disabled, infirm or in danger. The Scottish Priory has always supported the Order's hospital in Jerusalem and currently currently sponsors its Medical Director.
The aims of the Order in Scotland include: