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Pearls from the Pend No.3

New book on St John swords

FEW books are written about the possessions of The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. so this is a welcome addition, says Charles J Burnett, KStJ, former Priory Librarian.

Ceremonial Swords of the Order of St John

Harry F.Oxer AM, ASM, KStJ

Director of Ceremonies

Hon. Librarian and Museum Curator

Commandery of Western Australia

Published 2013 by St John Ambulance Australia

PO Box 183 Belmont, Western Australia 6104


Confrère Harry Oxer from Western Australia visited all the Priories and two of the Commanderies of the Order across the globe in order to view the Ceremonial Swords used by each. He also features the Priory Crosses used by Scotland and New Zealand.

These are distinctly national with Scotland’s wooden cross enhanced with engraved silver plates in Celtic knot patterns and New Zealand’s silver repoussé cross with ferns and the Southern Cross constellation.

The sword was the basic weapon of a medieval knight and has undergone change in shape and purpose over the centuries. It was once a slashing weapon with a broad blade but became pointed and narrow to inflict a puncture wound.

The sword also became a symbol for power and justice. The Crown Jewels of Scotland and the Crown Jewels of England both include swords to symbolise the authority of the sovereign. In the chivalric Order of St John the Priory Sword is carried before the Prior to symbolise his authority over the members of the Order within his area of jurisdiction.

Although most of the Swords follow a pattern set in London in 1944, the Priory for Wales and the Priory in the United States of America both use genuine medieval swords, the former is kept in the National Museum of Wales and brought out when required by the Priory, and the latter was once in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Great Sword of the Priory in the United States of America and the ancient ‘Slebech Sword’ of the Priory for Wales.

Our own Priory Sword was made in 1888 to dub Edward Prince of Wales and Duke of Rothesay as a Knight of the Order. It was then presented to Scotland in 1947 when the Priory of Scotland was established.

Several Priories possess two swords, one for carrying in ceremonial processions and another lighter sword used for dubbing new Knights. Scotland’s second sword was probably made for St John members before there was a Priory; it is no longer used but has an interesting pommel in the form of a thistle bearing a Maltese cross on the top.

The 'old' and 'new' swords of the Priory of Scotland.

The book is illustrated with 76 photographs and drawings in colour and black & white, not all of a consistent quality, and has four appendices which add useful information to augment the researches undertaken by the author.

Queen Victoria invested her son, HRH The Prince of Wales KG, KT (later King Edward VII), as the first Grand Prior on 18 July 1888, using a sword made by Wilkinson of London in the same year as the installation. This ceremonial Sword of Temporal Jurisdictionmwas subsequently presented by Chapter-General to the Priory of Scotland to mark the establishment of the Priory of Scotland at the Palace of Holyroodhouse on 26 June 1947.

The picture shows the inscription on the shield forming part of the hilt.

Although any engraved inscriptions on swords and scabbards are given in full, the book would have had greater value if measurements had been given, along with details of any hallmarks and maker’s marks.

Harry F.Oxer.

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