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History of the Order

The origins of the Order of St John can be traced all the way back 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. The Order, which still exists today, is now commonly referred to as the Order of Malta. It recruited members and owned property throughout Western Europe.

The first property in Scotland was established at Torphichen, in West Lothian. Acquired during the reign of David I, King of Scots (1124-1153), it became, and remained until the 16th century, the Order’s administrative centre in Scotland.

Being Roman Catholic, the Order ceased to function in the British Isles at the time of the Reformation. However, in the first half of the 19th century, a group of people set out to revive the Order of Malta in the United Kingdom and ultimately formed into a separate organisation which they called the Order of St John.

In 1877, they founded the St John Ambulance Association, whose role it 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 who would provide first aid for the public.

In 1968, it was agreed that the Ambulance Association and Brigade should be merged, forming the St John Ambulance we recognise today.

In 1882, as a further means to providing to those in need and recognising its origins, the Order opened a hospital in Jerusalem to care for people suffering eye diseases, prevalent in the Middle East. At that time, Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

Then, 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 – currently, HRH The Duke of Gloucester.

An individual’s commitment and contribution to the charity is acknowledged by titles conferred by Her Majesty the Queen.

Beginning with Members, the hierarchy continues with Officers, Commanders, Knights and Dames to the highest grade, Bailiff and Dame Grand Cross.

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