Venerable Order of Saint John facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsMost Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem
|Badge of a Member of the Venerable Order of St. John|
|Awarded by the
sovereign of the Commonwealth realms
PRO UTILITATE HOMINUM
|Eligibility||All living citizens of Commonwealth of Nations, the United States, and Hong Kong|
|Grand Prior||The Duke of Gloucester|
|Grades (w/ post-nominals)||Bailiff or Dame Grand Cross (GCStJ)
Knight or Dame of Justice or Grace (KStJ/DStJ)
Serving Brother or Sister
|Next (higher)||Dependent on state|
|Next (lower)||Dependent on state|
|Ribbon of the order|
The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (French: L'Ordre très vénérable de l'hôpital de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem), is a royal order of chivalry established in 1831 and found today throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, Hong Kong, Ireland and the United States of America. Its world-wide mission is "to prevent and relieve sickness and injury, and to act to enhance the health and well-being of people anywhere in the world." It is often simply called the Order of St. John, or as the Venerable Order of Saint John (VOSJ) to distinguish it from other similarly named orders.
The order's approximately 25,000 confrères, supported by 4,000 employees and 250,000 volunteers, are mainly Anglicans, though those of other Christian denominations or other religions are accepted into the order, and honorary membership is presented to distinguished adherents of other religions. Membership in the order is by invitation only, except via appointment to certain government or ecclesiastical offices in some realms. People may not petition for admission. It is perhaps best known through its service organizations, St. John Ambulance and St John Eye Hospital Group, the memberships and work of which are not limited to any denomination or religion.
The original order was divided into langues (tongues). These were groups based on the tongue, or language, that the group spoke.
The Order of St. John's biggest leap forward came in 1888, when Queen Victoria granted the society a royal charter, yet again renaming the order, this time as the Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem in England. This was altered in 1926 to the Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, and then in 1936 as the Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. In 1961 it played a role in the establishment of the Alliance of the Orders of St. John of Jerusalem, and thereafter finally received through a concordat in 1963 collateral recognition by the Order of Malta. The most recent royal charter was issued in 1955, with a supplemental charter released in 1974, recognizing the world-wide scope of the organization by setting its present name. In 1999, the order was granted special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Officers and grades
|Grades of the Order of St. John:|
|Grade||Grade I||Grade II||Grade III||Grade IV||Grade V||Grade VI|
|Title (English)||Bailiff/Dame Grand Cross||Knights/Dames of Justice or Grace||Commander||Officer||Member||Esquire|
|Title (French)||Bailli/Dame grand-croix||Chevallier/Dame de justice ou grâce||Commandeur||Officier||Membre||Ecuyer|
Knights and Dames receive the award from the Grand Prior when they are touched on the shoulder with a sword and are given their robes and insignia. Post-nominal letters of the order are not used outside the organization itself, and a Knight and Dame may not use the prefix sir or dame, though they may request from their local heraldic authority a personal coats of arms, should they not already possess any, and have it adorned with emblems of the Order of St. John. Further, membership in the order only grants precedence within the society, which is as follows:
- The Sovereign Head
- The Grand Prior
- The Lord Prior of St. John
- The Prior of a Priory or the Knight or Dame Commander of a Commandery when within the territory of the establishment
- The Prelate of the Order
- The Deputy Lord Prior or the Deputy Lord Priors and if more than one in the order of seniority in their grades
- The Sub-Prior of the Order
- Former Great Officers
- Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross
- The Prior of a Priory or the Knight or Dame Commander of a Commandery outside the territory of the establishment
- Members of the Grand Council not included above in the order of seniority in their grades
- The Principal Officers in the order of their offices
- The Sub-Prelates and the Honorary Sub-Prelates
- The Hospitaller of the Order
- Knights and Dames
- Serving Brothers and Serving Sisters
Precedence within each grade is dictated by dates of appointment, save for those in Grade I who are either a head of state or a member of the royal family of a Commonwealth realm, another Commonwealth country, or foreign state, in which case they all precede the other members of the grade in the following order:
- Members of the Commonwealth realms' royal family
- Heads of state from the Commonwealth of Nations
- Foreign Heads of State
- Members of other Commonwealth royal families
- Members of foreign royal families
Priories and commanderies
Following constitutional changes made in 1999, the Priory of England and The Islands was established (including the Commandery of Ards in Northern Ireland) alongside the existing Priories of Wales, Scotland, Canada, Australia (including the Commandery of Western Australia), New Zealand, South Africa, and, since 1996, the United States, each of which is governed by a Prior and a Priory Chapter. Commanderies, governed by a Knight or Dame Commander and a Commandery Chapter, may exist within or wholly or partly without the territory of a Priory, known as Dependent or Independent Commanderies, respectively. Any country without a Priory or Commandery of its own is assumed into the "home priory" of England and The Islands, many of these being smaller Commonwealth of Nations states in which the order has only a minor presence.
The Order of St. John is said to have arrived in Canada in 1648, as the second Governor of New France, Charles de Montmagny, was a member of the original order, but it was not until 1883 that the first branch of the modern organization was established in the country, at Quebec City, growing to 12 branches by 1892. The Order of St. John today forms part of the Canadian national honours system, and the Priory, established in 1946 out of the Commandery of Canada, is the largest outside of the United Kingdom, with some 6,000 members. The Canadian monarch's viceroy, the governor general, serves as the Prior and Chief Officer in Canada, while the provincial viceroys— the lieutenant governors— act as the Vice-Priors, overseeing the administration of the order in their respective province. These individuals thus automatically become Knights or Dames of Justice or Grace upon their swearing-into viceregal office.
An American Society of the Order of St. John was established in 1957 as a foundation to assist the order with charitable work, after 1961 focusing its efforts specifically on the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem and some other organizations aiding the sick. This branch was successful enough that Queen Elizabeth II in 1996 officially created the Priory of the United States of America, the seventh priory at the time, with John R. Drexel as the first Prior. By late 2000, the US priory had approximately 1,100 members. As citizens of a country that did not have the sovereignty of the Order of St. John vested in its head of state, American inductees who first joined the new Priory were specifically asked to only "pay due obedience" to the governing authorities of the order "in all things consistent with your duty to your own country," thus eliminating any question of loyalty to a foreign head of state superseding American postulants' duties as US citizens.
Vestments and insignia
Upon admission into the Order of St. John, confrères are gifted various insignia of the organization, each level and office being represented by different emblems and robes for wear at important occasions for the order. Common for all members except Esquires is the badge, consisting of an eight-pointed Maltese cross embellished in the four principal angles alternately with two lions passant guardant and two unicorns passant. That for the Sovereign Head is gold with arms of white enamel and the embellishments rendered in gold, all surmounted by a jeweled St. Edward's Crown, while those for the officers of the order are the same save for the Grand Prior's having the crown made only of gold; the Lord Prior's having in place of the St. Edward's Crown the coronet in gold of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales; and the Prelate's having instead a representation of a Mitre in gold. Thereafter, the badges are prescribed as follows:
All Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross may wear their badges either at the left hip on a 101.6 millimetres (4.00 in) (for men) or 82.5 millimetres (3.25 in) (for women) wide, black watered silk ribbon over the right shoulder or from a 16.5 millimetres (0.65 in) wide black band at the collar. Male Knights Justice or Grace must carry their badges on a 16.5mm wide ribbon at the neck, and Commanders, Officers, and Members have theirs on a 38 millimetres (1.5 in) straight ribbon suspended from a medal bar on the left breast, while females in all grades may wear their insignia either on a ribbon bow pinned at the left shoulder or hung from a medal bar in the men's fashion, depending on the circumstance and clothing worn. Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross, Knights and Dames of Justice or Grace, and Chaplains may all also wear a breast star, which appears the same as their badges, only at a diameter of 88.9 millimetres (3.50 in) and without embellishments for those in Grade I and 76 millimetres (3.0 in) for those in Grade II. Further, those in these groups are also given a button for wear on the lapel of non-formal civilian clothing, for events such as business meetings of the order. In general, the insignia of the Order of St. John may be worn at all occasions where other decorations are worn, not only those connected with the ceremonies of the order.
All members of the Order of St. John are also required to wear specific robes for formal occasions of the society, including a mantle, sopra vest, and hat. The mantles of the Sovereign Head and Grand Prior are all of black silk velvet and lined with white silk, the former's differentiated by an additional train. Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross and, prior to 1926, Knights of Justice formerly wore black silk robes with a lining of the same material and colour; these members now wear the same mantle as Commanders, Officers, and Esquires, which are made of black merino wool faced with black silk. The only other unique mantles are those of the Medical Officer of the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital, which bears a special pattern, and of Chaplains, which is a black silk robe with full sleeves. Each cloak also bears on its left side a rendition of the order's star in white silk: the Sovereign Head, Grand Prior, and those in the first two grades of the order all have a 300 millimetres (12 in) diameter emblem; the Sovereign's and Grand Prior's are of white silk with gold adornments, the former's also surmounted by a St. Edward's Crown, while those for Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross, Knights and Dames of Justice, and Knights and Dames of Grace are rendered in white linen, the first two groups having embellishments in gold silk, the latter in white silk. Similarly, the star for Commanders and Officers is of white linen with white silk ornamentation, though they are only 228.6 millimetres (9.00 in) and 152.4 millimetres (6.00 in) in diameter, respectively. The Secretaries of the order, the priories, and the commanderies also wear the badge superimposed upon two goose quill pens embroidered saltire-wise in white silk.
The sopra (or supra) vest is a long drape of thin, black cloth that buttons close down the neck and to one side, falling to the ankles and cut so as to entirely cover the body. It is similar to a cassock, though it is actually derived from the supra vesta— a black surcoat worn in the mid 13th century by the Knights of St. John. Confrères in Grade I have a plain, white, 300mm diameter Maltese cross on their sopra vests, while members of Grades II and III, plus Chaplains, have a plain garment, though the wearer's Order of St. John medallion hangs outside the vest, 152mm below the collar. Clerical inductees of the order may, when officiating, wear over their cassock and surplice a tippet of black with red lining, edging, and buttons, a 76mm wide star worn on the left breast and the accordant badge suspended at the neck. When full mantles and sopra vests are worn a black velvet Tudor style hat is included.
Eligibility and appointment
The Sovereign makes all appointments to the order as she, in her absolute discretion, shall think fit, though the constitution does impose certain limitations: the maximum number of members is set at 35,000,
To be inducted, new members must recite the organization's declaration:
- "I do solemnly declare that I will be faithful and obedient to The Order of St. John and its Sovereign Head as far as it is consistent with my duty to my [Sovereign/President] and to my country; that I will do everything in my power to uphold its dignity and support its charitable works; and that I will endeavour always to uphold the aims of this Christian Order and to conduct myself as a person of honour."
Notwithstanding the order's devotion to Christian ideals of charity, and its official position that the order has a "Christian character," its Grand Council has since 1999 affirmed that "profession of the Christian Faith should not be a condition of membership of the Order." The issue of the order's Christian character and the issue of "inclusive membership" was dealt with in the Grand Council's Pro Fide Report in 2005, wherein it was said that the order's life is shaped by Christian faith and values, but that "[r]ather than the emphasis being primarily upon 'spiritual beliefs or doctrine' it is on works of mercy rendered through St. John"; therefore, while the Great Officers are required to profess the Christian faith, the same is "not an essential condition of membership" and "[t]he onus is on the man or woman who is invited to the privilege of membership to decide whether he or she can with a good conscience promise to be faithful to the stated aims and purposes of this Christian lay order of chivalry." On the subject of inclusive membership, the report stated "Christian hospitality is a criterion which can be applied to the Order's relationships to persons of other religious faiths," and "the Order needs to be characterized by a hospitable disposition towards other faith traditions while holding fast to its own origins and foundational identity in Christian faith."
Precedence in each realm
As the Order of St. John is open to the citizens of sixteen different countries, each with their own system of orders, decorations, and medals, the order's place of precedence varies from country to country. Unlike with other multi-level orders, all the Order of St. John's grades rank between the society's predecessor and successor; some examples follow:
Order of precedence
|Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)||Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) (if awarded prior to 5 October 1992)
Conspicuous Service Medal (CSM)
Order of precedence
|Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO)||Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (GOQ)|
| New Zealand
Order of precedence
|Royal Red Cross (Class II) (ARRC)||Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)|
|United Kingdom||Royal Red Cross (Class II) (ARRC)||Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)|
- List of the priors of St John of Jerusalem in England
- Museum of the Order of St John
- Sovereign Military Order of Malta
- Service Medal of the Order of St John
Images for kids
Canadian Governor General Roland Michener's arms, depicting his St John insignia below right
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. robed as a Knight of Justice of the Order (1958)
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair wearing his MStJ decoration, between the Order of Merit of the Police Forces and Police Exemplary Service Medals
Venerable Order of Saint John Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.