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Pearls from the Pend No.12

Folios of Faith


Duncan McAra

‘Without libraries what have we?
We have no past and no future.’ 
Ray Bradbury


The library in St John’s House is nowhere as large as, say, Innerpeffray Library (1680), near Crieff, or the Leighton Library (1687) in Dunblane, but the collection is housed in the Chancery of a historic national charity. It was for this reason that the Librarian following his appointment felt it appropriate for the Priory of Scotland to apply to join the Friends of the National Libraries (FNL). This registered charity, whose Royal Patron is HRH The Prince of Wales, was founded in 1931 to prevent the loss to the nation of books and manuscripts of historical and aesthetic importance being bought by foreign buyers in the decade after the First World War.

The FNL assists libraries in the United Kingdom by giving grants for the acquisition of rare books, manuscripts and archives. It also has a tradition of arranging visits for its members to libraries and private collections.

Following discussions at Chancery last year with Dr Iain Gordon Brown, FSA, FRSE, former Principal Curator of Manuscripts, National Library of Scotland, and the FNL’s Scottish Representative, the FNL Visit programme for Spring 2019 comprised The National Art Library at the V&A; Maggs Brothers, antiquarian booksellers in Bloomsbury; Canterbury Cathedral Library and Archives; and St John Scotland Library.

On the afternoon of Thursday 14 March the Librarian was delighted to welcome Dr Murray Simpson, former Special Collections Librarian at University of Edinburgh Library and later Director of Special Collections, National Library of Scotland, and Honorary Libraries Adviser to The National Trust for Scotland; Dr William Zachs, Honorary Fellow of the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh, a noted bibliophile and author of The First John Murray and the Eighteenth-Century London Book Trade; Andy Betchley of Ravelston Books; and Julie Falkner. Dr Brown and the Librarian’s predecessor, Confrère Charles Burnett, who had been invited to join the FNL party, were unable to attend.

The visitors appreciated the complexity of a charity such as St John Scotland which is a constituent of a Royal Order of Chivalry and a historic Christian confraternity with a Prior and Dean and a modern non-profit company limited by guarantee.

The Librarian, in talking about St John Scotland past and present, explained that the white eight-pointed cross is the badge of five renowned Orders of Chivalry, whose membership, sharing a common tradition, extends across much of the globe. He made reference to several agreements since the early 1960s between the five Orders – the Roman Catholic Order of Malta, the Protestant Johanniterorden of Germany, Sweden and The Netherlands and the interdenominational Order of St John (of which HM The Queen is Sovereign Head) – which have served to mend rifts that had divided them over the previous century and a half. These have enabled the successors of the Knights Hospitaller from the time of the Crusades to work together in the service of the poor and the sick. Membership in one of the five Orders is an honour requiring a commitment of faith and an obligation of service, emulating the Knights of St John over nine centuries.

The Librarian showed his visitors the Chapter Room and explained the heraldic significance of the shields of past and present Priors of Scotland and the stall-plates of past and present Knights. And in the Library, itself, he drew their attention to the Extract of Matriculation of the Arms of the Priory of Scotland, dated 26 June 1947, as recorded in Volume 36 of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland in Lyon Office.

For the benefit of the visitors, the Librarian divided the collection under various headings and highlighted the particular significance of the books listed below.


Wilkinson, John, Jerusalem Pilgrims: Before the Crusades, Arris & Philips, Warminster, 1977

Hundreds of pilgrims travelled from Europe to the Holy Land between 385 and 1009. Only 18 wrote descriptions (in English translation) which have survived. Fascinating eyewitness accounts.

Boas, Adrian J., Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades, Routledge, London, 2001

Folda, Jaroslav, Crusader Art: The Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land1099-1291, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2008 

     The first book to illustrate in colour a wide range of important works of Crusader art, including surviving architectural examples, works of sculpture, mosaics, frescos, manuscripts, icons, ivory carvings, metalwork and coins.         



Barber, Richard, The Knight and Chivalry, Longman & Co., London, 1970


Keen, Maurice, Chivalry, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1984

     The author encapsulates chivalry as an ethos in which martial, aristocratic and Christian elements were fused together.


Sainty, Guy Stair, The Orders of  Saint John: The History, Structure, Membership and Modern Role of the Five Hospitaller Orders of Saint John of Jerusalem, New York, 1991



Gayre, G. R., The Heraldry of the Knights of St John, Garga Bros., Allahabad, 1956


Guillim, John [Rouge Croix Pursuivant of Arms], A Display of Heraldry, 4th edn, London, 1660

The FNL visitors were particularly interested to see this new addition to the Library – part of the very generous Henry Tilling Bequest. The book, sadly, was missing its all-important title page. Spotting a year, 1640, in the Dedication, the Librarian deduced that the copy was not the 3rd edition of 1638, but the 4th edition of 1660 (subsequently confirmed by York Herald at the College of Arms), ‘corrected and much enlarged by the Author himself in his lifetime with 400 new Coats of Arms, and Bearings’. The book will now include a facsimile of the title page obtained from the National Library of Scotland and a specially commissioned bookplate prepared by Yvonne Holton (Herald Painter in Scotland and Dingwall Pursuivant) comprising Henry Tilling’s Arms as a Knight of Justice and the inscription THE HENRY TILLING BEQUEST.


King, E. J., The Knights Hospitallers in the Holy Land, Methuen & Co, London, 1931

Montefiore, Simon Sebag, Jerusalem: The Biography, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2011

     Part of The Henry Tilling Bequest.

Nicolle, David, Knights of Jerusalem: The Crusading Order of Hospitallers1100 – 1565, Osprey, Oxford, 2008

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, Hospitallers: The History of the Order of St John, [Foreword by HRH the Duke of Gloucester, Grand Prior], Hambledon Press, London, 1999

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, The Knights of St John in Jerusalem and Cyprusc. 1050 – 1310, Macmillan, London, 1967



Belabre, Baron de, Rhodes of the Knights, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1908  

Handsomely designed and illustrated book by the French Consul in Rhodes. Published 4 years before Italian troops landed on the Turkish-held island and took control, ending nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule when, at the second attempt in 1522, the Ottomans expelled the Knights Hospitaller from their island stronghold.

Brockman, Eric, The Two Sieges of Rhodes, 1480 – 1522, John Murray, London, 1969

Kollias, Elias, The Knights of Rhodes: The Palace and the City, Ekdotike Athenon, Athens, 1991


Mifsud, Canon Mgr A., Knights Hospitallers of the Venerable Tongue of England in Malta, Valletta, 1914

Schermerhorn, Elizabeth W., Malta of the Knights, Wm Heinemann, London, 1929

Scicluna, Sir Hannibal, The Church of St John in Valletta: Its History, Architecture and Monuments; with a brief history of the Order of St John from its inception to the present day, Casa M. Danesi, Rome, 1955 (Privately printed, for the Author; 2 plans, 760 illustrations with 50 in colour as  tipped-in plates)

Sire, H. J. A., The Knights of Malta, Yale U. P., New Haven & London, 1994

Vertot, R. A. de, Histoire des chevaliers hospitaliers de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem, 4 vols, Paris, 1726

It was the Abbé de Vertot’s history that inspired Sir Walter Scott in the last months of his life to write the novel The Siege of Malta, conceived at Portsmouth, started in Malta and completed at Naples. An account of Scott’s Mediterranean journey and his last novel was published by the Maltese scholar Donald E. Sultana (Scottish Academic Press, 1977).  A more recent novel on the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 – the Knights’ victory becoming one of the most celebrated events throughout 16th-century Europe – is The Bitter Cross by Simon Mawer, published in 1992.



Hume, Edgar Erskine, Medical Work of the Knights Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1940

A pioneering volume, with fascinating illustrations, from the Knights of St John in the Holy Land to the outbreak of the Second World War when among the earliest casualties to fall at their post of duty were two Polish Knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.   Of particular interest is the section relating to the First World War when the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross and the Order of St John established headquarters at Rouen from which all work on the Western Front was directed. It maintained hospitals, dressing stations, rest stations, stores, convoys of motor ambulances, hospital trains and an enquiry department for the missing. There were also headquarters in Malta, Egypt, the Near East, Mesopotamia, East Africa, Italy, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, and Russia.  Military hospitals and hospital trains were similarly operated by British, French, Italian, German and Austro-Hungarian Knights of Malta.


Mitchell, Piers D., Medicine in the Crusades: Warfare, Wounds and the Medieval Surgeon, Cambridge U. P., 2004

     The author brings together expertise as a surgeon, osteo-archaeologist and historian to produce the first in-depth history of Western medical practice within the Levantine Crusader states of the 12th and 13th centuries.

Wallis, Faith (ed.), Medieval Medicine: A Reader, University of Toronto Press, 2010

     A collection of over 100 primary sources, many translated for the first time.



Barber, Malcolm, The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple, Cambridge U.P., 1994

Frale, Barbara, The Templars: The Secret History Revealed [Foreword by Umberto Eco], Maverick House, Dublin, 2009

     The author, an official Vatican historian, discovered the Chinon Parchment, the long-lost document issued by Pope Clement V, in which he absolved the Templars of all charges of heresy.

Partner, Peter, The Murdered Magicians: The Templars and their Myth, Oxford U. P., 1981



Burnett, Charles & Tilling, Henry, The Order of St John in Scotland: An Account of the charitable work of The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in the Realm of Scotland since 1879, Edinburgh, 1997

Cowan, Ian B., Mackay, P. H. R.  & Macquarrie, Alan (eds), The Knights of St John of Jerusalem in Scotland, Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1983

Fawcett, Richard, ‘From Preceptory to Parish Church: the Church of the Knights Hospitallers at Torphichen’, Ch. 19, in Crusader Landscapes in Medieval Levant, ed. by M. Sinibaldi, K. J. Lewis, B. Major & J. A. Thompson, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2016 [a Festschrift to Prof. Denys      Pringle]

     In email correspondence (5 April 2018) with the Librarian, Emeritus Professor Fawcett wrote: ‘While I feel there can be no certainty as to whether or not the east limb [i.e. the Choir of the Preceptory] was built, my own feeling is that the balance of probability is that it was.’ If any member of St John Scotland would like to read this crucial essay, please contact the Librarian [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]

Macquarrie, Alan, Scotland and the Crusades, 1095 – 1560, John Donald, Edinburgh, 1997



The FNL visitors were understandably interested to see books in the collection published in the 18th and 17th centuries, and were particularly keen to examine the small group of 16th-century books, published in Basle (1581), Venice (1560) and Rome (1556). Did the collection go back even earlier? The Librarian produced a sole example of “post-incunable” (books printed in mainland Europe between 1501 and 1540): De bello Rhodio libri tres Clementi VII pontifici maximo dedicati by Jacques Fontaine, first published in Rome in 1524.

The visit proved enjoyable for all concerned, and it was an opportunity for the Librarian not only to thank his visitors for coming but also to pay tribute to his predecessors, Charles Burnett (Librarian from 1987 to 1999) and Jonathan Riley-Smith (Librarian from 1966 to 1978).

One of the visitors remarked on leaving, “You have a unique collection of books in Scotland.”

The Librarian (1570)   
by Giuseppe Arcimboldo   

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