3. The Foundation of the Order of St. John through Blessed Gérard

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Concerning what I call in a particular sense the foundation of the Order of St. John, the opinions of the historians differ considerably according to their intention, either to proof the independence of the foundation, or to proof a long tradition. The one group of historians states, the hospital would have been destroyed in the Seljuks' Raid AD 1070 - 1078 and would have been rebuilt soon afterwards. Other historians think, the hospital would have withstood the Seljuks' Raid and its director would also have been in Jerusalem during the siege in 1099.

A fresco in the Chapel of the contemporary Grand Magistry in the Via Condotti in Rome depicts Blessed Gérard (Beato Gherardo) chained with a loaf of bread in the left hand. This reminds us of the legend which tells us, Blessed Gérard would have thrown loaves of bread over the walls of Jerusalem to the hungry crusaders during the siege of six weeks preceding the conquest. He would have been caught and brought before the Ottoman defenders to be charged for supporting the enemy. When evidence was to be produced the loaves of bread in his coat had miraculously changed into stones and Blessed Gérard was acquitted.

Blessed Gérard reorganised the former guest house, which was then the hospice or hospital of Jerusalem totally in AD 1099, the year of the conquest of Jerusalem by the crusaders.

Of course, he had to do so, because there was a vast increase of patients admitted to the hospital from among the crusaders themselves and all those who followed their trail as pilgrims again into the freed Holy City. This reorganisation is considered the foundation of the Order of St. John.

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For this work it is irrelevant if that reorganisation now means either the detachment from the maybe still existing mother monastery of St. Maria Latina and the modification of the Rule of St. Benedict, or the gradual change of the Brotherhood of the hospital, which was presided over by Gérard, into a religious order in the sense of a daughter foundation, which now took on a mother's role for the Brotherhood which continued to exist. It is certain, that from this time on the Brothers of the Order , which since then is called the Order of St. John, vow to live a life according to the Evangelical Counsels - poverty, chastity and obedience -, wear their own religious vestments ( a black habit with a white beam cross at the left side) and live according to their own regulations. Unfortunately these original regulations got lost, but we may assume, that is was - like the first preserved Rule of Gérard's successor, Raymond du Puy - a conglomerate consisting of Augustinian and Benedictine ingredients with independent additions. Therefore I cannot second the opinion , that the community under Gérard's leadership would have been nothing more than a group of people of similar interests loosely joined together. This is not in contradiction to the fact that in the particular sense of Canon Law we can call the community an independent order only since the time between 1135 and 1153.

Many pilgrims joined the newly founded order (when it was first founded) as helpers and brothers already in Gérard's times.

An idealistic misinterpretation:
Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem supposedly presenting Blessed Gérard the Grandmaster's sword.

Rich donations, e.g. by Godfrey of Bouillon and King Baldwin I (1108) enabled Gérard amongst other things to erect branch hospitals in European Mediterranean harbours. Already before 1113 there were branch hospices at the castle of St. Egid,

in Asti,

Pisa, Bari, Ydrontum, Tarent and Messina. Pilgrims, who got sick, should be treated there at an early stage, because otherwise the influx of sick pilgrims into the Hospital of Jerusalem would have become too big, especially as the passage to Jerusalem was free again in these times and therefore pilgrims came to Jerusalem again in large numbers.

[ Pope Paschalis II and King Philip I ]

Pope Paschal II. (13.8.1099 - 21.1.1118) confirmed the hospital community on February 15, 1113 through the bull "Piae postulatio voluntatis" as a religious order, he took on the protectorate of the hospital and confirmed the acquisitions and donations of the Order in Europe and Asia. The text (in English translation) is as follows:

dated 15th February 1113

Paschal the Bishop, servant of the servants of God, to his venerable son Gérard, founder and Provost (prepositus) of the Xenodocheum of Jerusalem, and to his lawful successors forever.

A pious request and desire should meet with satisfaction and fulfillment. For as much as of your affection you have requested that the Xenodocheum, which you have founded in the City of Jerusalem, near to the Church of the Blessed John Baptist, should be supported by the Apostolic See, and fostered by the patronage of the Blessed Apostle Peter. We therefore, Being much pleased with the piety and earnestness of your Hospital work (Hospitalitas), do receive your petition with paternal kindness, and do ordain by virtue of the present decree that the House of God the Xenodocheum shall always be under the guardianship of the Apostolic See, and the protection of the Blessed Peter.

All things therefore that have been acquired for the said Xenodocheum by your solicitude and perseverance, for the support of pilgrims, and for the needs of the poor, whether in the Church in Jerusalem or in the parishes of churches in the territory of other cities, or have been presented by faithful men, no matter who, or may be presented in the future by the Grace of God, or may happen to be acquired by other lawful means, and whatsoever things have been granted, by our venerable brethren the Bishops of the Church in Jerusalem, either to you or to your successors and to the brethren there occupied in the care of the pilgrims, we decree shall be held forever in peace and undiminished.

Moreover we ordain that the Tithes of your produce. where so ever collected at your charge and by your labour, shall be held and possessed by your Xenodocheum, notwithstanding the opposition of the Bishops and of the episcopal officers.

The donations also, which pious Princes have made to the said Xenodocheum from taxes and other imposts, we decree shall be held confirmed.

And at your death, who art now the overseer (provisor) and Provost of that place, no one shall be appointed there by subtlety or intrigue or violence, but only he whom the professed brethren there shall provide and elect in accordance with God's will.

Moreover all honours or possessions, which the said Xenodocheum at present holds either beyond or on this side the sea, that is to say in Asia or in Europe, or those which in the future by the bounty of God it shall obtain, we confirm them to you and to your successors, who shall be devoting themselves to hospital work with piety and earnestness, and through you to the said Xenodocheum forever.

To this we further decree that it shall be lawful for no man whatsoever rashly to disturb the said Xenodocheum, or to carry off its possessions, or to retain those carried off, or to lesson them, or to harass it with vexatious annoyances. But let all its possessions be preserved undiminished for the sole use and enjoyment of those for whose maintenance and support they have been granted.

Moreover we decree that the Xenodochea or Ptochea in the western parts at Bourg St. Gilles, Asti, Pisa, Bari, Otranto, Tarento, and Messina, known by the name and style of Jerusalem shall remain as they are today under your rule and disposition and those of your successors forever.

If therefore in the future any person, either ecclesiastic or secular, knowing this chapter of our ordinances should rashly attempt to contravene them, and if after a second or third warning he shall not make satisfactory and suitable amends, let him be deprived of his dignity, power and honour, and let him know he stand accused before the tribunal of God for iniquity that he has perpetrated, and let him be kept from the most Sacred Body and Blood of our God and Redeemer our Lord Jesus Christ, and at the Last Judgement let him undergo the severest punishment. But upon all those dealing justly towards the said place may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ rest, and here they may receive the reward of good conduct, and before the universal Judge may enjoy the blessings of everlasting peace. Amen. Amen.

I Paschal Bishop of the Catholic Church have signed.

I Richard Bishop of Albano have signed.

I Landulf Archbishop of Benevento have read and signed.

I Conan Bishop of the Church of Praeneste have read and signed.

I Anastasius Cardinal Priest of San Clemente have signed.

I John Bishop of Malta have read and signed.

I Romoald Cardinal Deacon of the Church of Rome have signed.

I Gregory Cardinal Priest of San Crisogono have read and signed.

Given at Benevento by the hand of John, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church and Librarian , on the 15th day before the Calends of March, in the 6th Indiction, in the year 1113 of the Incarnation of Our Lord, and in the 14th year of the Pontificate of our Lord Pope Paschal II. Fare you well.

Stamps of the SMOM commemorating the above "foundation bull"

Already at that early stage (before 1113) the Order had spread to Europe. The above bull quotes a xenodocheum in St. Gilles, which lies in the Provence in France and xenodochea in Asti, Bari, Pisa, Otranto, Tarent and Messina (all in Italy).

Pope Calixtus II. (1119-13.11.1124)
confirmed the privileges and possessions of the hospital and especially Pope Paschal II's bull "Piae postulatio voluntatis" through his bull "Ad hoc nos" dated June 19, 1119. The order started to become exempt gradually already at Gérard's times, but initially - except the exemption from tithes - not yet from the episcopal jurisdiction. Papal bulls from this and the following times proof that.

Gérard died on September 3, 1120.

The French historian of the Order of St. John,

the Abbot of Vertôt,
mourns: "The Hospitallers lost the Blessed Gérard, the father of the poor and of the pilgrims; that virtuous man, having arrived at an exceeding old age, expired in the arms of his brethren, almost without any sickness, and fell, as we may say, like a fruit ripe for eternity."

His epitaph - as recorded by Fulcher of Chartres - reads:

Here lies


the humblest man
among the dwellers in the East;

The servant of the poor,
a welcoming friend to strangers;

He was lowly in mien,
but within him shone a noble heart.

The measure of his goodness
may be seen within these walls.

He was provident in many things,
painstaking in all he did;

He undertook many tasks
of diverse nature;

Stretching out his arms diligently
to many lands,
He gathered from everywhere
the means to feed his people.

(Quoted from H. J. A. Sire: The Knights of Malta, Reprint New Haven and London 1994)

SMOM origins

Patron Saints Index Pope Paschal II
Patron Saints Index Pope Callistus II
Calixtus II (Guy of Burgundy) POPE OF ROME

Blessed Gérard
This page is part of the publication: Blessed Gérard and his "everlasting brotherhood": The Order of St. John of Jerusalem

This page was last updated on Sunday, 11 October 2015 03:55:51


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