Medieval picture of knight of St Lazarus, kneeling on one knee, hands extended with palms upraised in prayer, a pole bearing the pennant of the Order resting on his shoulder.This ancient Order of Chivalry can trace its roots back to the 4th century when a hospice was established outside the walls of Jerusalem by Greek or Armenian monks under the rule of Saint Basil.  Its particular mission was the care and treatment of lepers and those suffering from skin diseases.
Medieval picture of a leper seated, with bell and broad-brimmed hat and face partially covered
In a papal bull dated 1043 at Marseilles, Pope Benedict IX granted privileges to the Order which, five years later, were extended and added to in a bull of Nicholas II.

In 1095, Pope Urban II launched a Crusade to gain possession of the Holy Sites, and it was during this period that the Hospitallers were transformed into a Military Order of Knighthood. Whilst the Knights of Saint John and the Knights Templar were more numerous, and stronger militarily, the Knights of the Order of Saint Lazarus became an appropriate vehicle for the transfer of any Knights who contracted leprosy. Such persons were thus medically isolated, while remaining within a well organised body which could capitalise on their fighting ability.

Although the primary focus of the Order was its hospitaller activities, the Knights of Saint Lazarus were involved in many notable battles. At the great debacle of the  Christian forces at Acre in 1291 every knight of the Order present was slain, as a consequence of which the Pope agreed that, to ensure the future of the Order, Grand Masters need not themselves be afflicted with leprosy.

Prior to the fall of the Holy Land, the Order had been given the Royal Château of Boigny, near Orléans, by King Louis VII of France. It was to this estate the headquarters of the Order was moved when the Holy Land was recaptured by the Moslems.

Sketch of Knight of St Lazarus in armour, wearing a white surcoat with the green cross of the Order. and bearing a shield on also displaying the green Lazarus cross.By the 12th century, the Order had found its way into Europe and established itself in France, Germany, Italy, Sicily and the British Isles.

Its first appearance in England was during the troubled reign of King Stephen. A hospital was established at Burton in Leicestershire and in 1177, through the offices of Sir Roger de Mowbray, a Royal Charter was granted by King Henry II. The hospital at Burton Lazars, as it was later called, became the chief house of the Order in England. It was administered by a Master as well as eight knights, and was under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and Saint Lazarus. In succeeding years, many hospitals and commanderies were erected in England and, at one period, the Order possessed as many as 95 Leper Houses throughout the kingdom.

In Scotland, the Order acquired considerable prestige under Robert the Bruce. A commandery was founded by Royal Charter, issued by Alexander II (1214-49) and administered from Linlithgow, where it had its headquarters. Lazar Houses were founded in various parts of the kingdom.

The branches of Sicily and England had tended to act independently of the Magistry in Boigny. However, on 27th April 1318, Pope John decreed that the Order, which depended on the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for its spiritual protection, would henceforth fall under the authority of the Holy See.  This decree, however, was recognised only by the Commander of Sicily, doubtless because of its position as a vassal state of the papacy. After this date, there were two distinct Orders of Saint Lazarus: those of Boigny and of Sicily.

In 1489, Pope Innocent VIII issued a Bull Nos Igitur which attempted to merge the Order with that of the Holy Sepulchre, the intention being for both Orders ultimately to be combined with the Order of Saint John. The Bull was ignored, however, and the Grand Magistry at Boigny continued to maintain its independence and its separate identity.
Neck decoration of a knight of St Maurice & St Lazarus, showing the white cross of St Maurice superimposed upon the green eight-pointed cross of St Lazarus below a gold coronet
The Order in Sicily was merged with that of the Order of Saint Maurice by Pope Gregory XIII in 1572 and placed under the Grand Magistry of the House of Savoy, where it has remained to this day. It is known as the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus.  (The illustration on the right shows the neck decoration of a knight of St Maurice & St Lazarus, with the white cross of St Maurice superimposed upon the green eight-pointed cross of St Lazarus below a gold coronet.)

During the Middle Ages the Order of Saint Lazarus fulfilled a dual mission. As a military power, it operated a flotilla of warships in the Mediterranean to protect important sea routes against pirates and marauders, while, at the same time, the Hospitallers of Saint Lazarus protected and treated the victims of leprosy, which had become something of a scourge throughout Europe.

As the disease decreased in England, the Order became more secularised. The end came in 1544 when Henry VIII, having dissolved the religious houses, turned his attention to the Hospitallers. Their properties and wealth were seized and the Order, and that of Saint John, was prohibited, its members being forbidden to wear the habit or use any of its distinctive titles. While this marked the close of the Order's activities in England, it was not the end altogether, as English and Scottish Knights of the Roman Catholic faith continued to be admitted to the Order in Europe.

In 1604, King Henry IV of France declared himself Supreme Sovereign of the Order and named his own Grand Master. He received permission from the Pope to originate a new Order, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This newly created Order was merged with that of Saint Lazarus by naming the same person Grand Master of both. The continued existence of the Order was recognised in letters from both Cardinal Louis de Vendôme and Pope Clement XIII. In 1830, following the French Revolution, the new Government in France abolished all Royal Orders. The Order of St Lazarus, however, remained unaffected as it had always been a semi-independent International Order under the protection of the Crown of France, and not itself a French National Order.

In 1838, Pope Gregory XVI issued a letter which confirmed the Melchite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch as Spiritual Protector of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, and for the next 70 years the Order was administered by the Patriarch. Unfortunately, the protector patriarchs were unable to devote sufficient time to the Order's affairs and, in consequence, it entered a period of decline. In 1910 the then Patriarch transferred the administration to Paris and the Council of Officers which sat there.

There followed a 'grey period' in the Order's history upon which detractors dwell in an attempt to challenge its legitimacy. Moreover, the weakness of the Order in the early 20th century made it vulnerable to certain individuals who used its good name to cloak personal schemes designed to further their own ambitions. Prince Louis Stanislas, last Grand Master of the Order of St Lazarus

The last Grand Master had been Prince Louis Stanislas Xavier de Borbon (pictured right), and the last Protector had been his brother, Charles X.  Following this long association with the Royal House of Borbon, the Council asked His Highness Prince Francisco de Borbon de la Torre, to become Lieutenant General of the Order in May 1930. With the founding of the Republic in 1931, the Duke of Seville, who had been a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Army, was arrested by the new régime and deported to the Sahara. On his release, he was sent to Paris 'for training'. This thinly veiled exile gave him the opportunity to involve himself more and more in the affairs of the Order, and in 1935 the Chapter General proclaimed him Grand Master.

During the Spanish Civil War both the Grand Master and his son fought alongside General Franco. An even greater conflict then engulfed the Order, namely the Second World War. Many members of the Order died, not only in serving their country but in the various resistance movements throughout occupied Europe. In France a Lazarite Volunteer Ambulance Corps was organised to help casualties during the Liberation of France.

After the War, the Duke of Seville recognised that the geographical separation of himself and the Order's administration needed to be addressed; this led him to create the office of Administrator General. In 1956 this office was conferred on Pierre de Cossé, Duc de Brissac. Prince Francisco de Borbon de Borbon, who had inherited his father's title on his death in 1952, was elected Grand Master in 1959.

Unfortunately, the earlier division of responsibilities created by the post of Administrator General resulted in differences regarding the governing of the Order and eventually led to one faction summoning a Chapter General in 1967 which proclaimed Charles Philippe d'Orleans, Duc de Nemours, Grand Master and Prince Francisco Grand Master Emeritus.

In 1960, as a result of an initiative by Lieutenant Colonel Gayre of Gayre and Nigg, the English Tongue was founded. It consisted of Priories of England, Scotland, Ireland and Canada, as well as the Commandery of Lochore and a number of Bailiwicks in the Commonwealth. Added to this was a remarkable expansion of the Order in the United States. It soon became evident that the balance of forces leaned in favour of the Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions, the majority of whose members were Protestant.

Although Saint Lazarus had already committed itself to ecumenism, many did not favour opening its ranks to all Christians. Eventually, in 1969, the Chapter unilaterally elected the Duc de Brissac as 'Supreme Head' of the Order. In view of this unfortunate state of affairs the Duc de Nemours, in order to guarantee Saint Lazarus international status and independence, transferred the Grand Chancery of the Order to Malta. This was the first serious schism in modern times and resulted in two Obediences: Paris and Malta.
Don Francisco de Borbon y Escasany, Duke of SevilleDon Francisco Enriqué de Borbon y Borbon died in 1975. His son, Don Francisco de Borbon y Escasany, Duke of Seville (left), who was declared 48th Grand Master of the Order (Malta Obedience) in 1996, succeeded him, while Francois de Cossé, Marquis de Brissac and subsequently 13ème Duc (right) had been elected Grand Master (Paris Obedience) in 1986, ironically as a result of a failed attempt at reunification.

Various efforts had been made to reunify the Order since the schism of 1969, but in the early years of the 21st century the Order found itself sadly fractured into a number of organisations each claiming to be the "true Order of St Lazarus".  The realisation that this presented a most unedifying picture to the wider world may have been the catalyst for an increased determination to achieve reunification. The progress so far has been encouraging, and has resulted in the coming together of those parts of the Order which represent the vast majority of its members, under the leadership of a new Grand Master – His Excellency, Don Carlos Gereda de Borbón, Marqués de Almazán – who was elected at a Chapter-General in September, 2008, both the Duke of Seville and the Duc de Brissac having graciously retired.

In England and Wales, there are currently two jurisdictions, the Grand Bailiwick and the Grand Priory, each working together under the one Grand Master. The Grand Bailiwick of England and Wales consists of twelve commanderies while the Grand Priory has six.  A Joint Implementation Commission, composed of representatives from the Bailiwick and Priory, has been set up to resolve those differences which have evolved over the past 35 years.  "The Grand Bailiwick & Priory of England and Wales" has been adopted as an interim name for this organisation, which aims to achieve complete integration by January 2011.

Arthur Mitchelson KCLJ, CMLJ, BMLJ
& Gareth Vaughan KCLJ, SCrLJ


 The Raising of Lazarus, by Giotto

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