Around 1050 Italian Christians in the Amalfi Republic were granted land in Jerusalem by the Caliph of Egypt. On the land they built a church, a convent and a hospital for Christian pilgrims as well as sick and destitute people of whatever race or religion.
In 1099, the Crusaders invaded Jerusalem. The monastic community who managed the hospital became an independent religious Order : in 1113 Pope Pascal II consecrated the foundation of the Order and placed it under the protection of the Holy See. Invoking the help of Saint John the Baptist, who preached love for ones’ neighbour, they helped the sick and the pilgrims, and also took part in the defence of Holy Ground ; thus the Order became both religious and military. They chose as their emblem Saint John’s eight-pointed white cross representing the eight beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount.
One century later Saladin conquered Jerusalem : the Hospitallers retreated and were progressively expelled from Saint Jean D’Acre, from Cyprus and then from Rhodes. To resist the Turks, the Order, which had acquired a navy and a military health service, took possession of the Island of Malta, relinquished by Charles V : they took the name the “Sovereign Order of Malta”. In continental Europe, the Order was given generous donations and was divided up in 8 regions called “tongues”, namely Provence, Auvergne, France, England, Spain with two tongues, and Germany comprising central Europe. In each tongue priories and commanderies welcomed pilgrims, provided health care to the sick in a way that was well ahead of their time.
In 1530, after the Reformation, the Order split into two branches, one Catholic which kept the name Sovereign Order of Malta, and the other Protestant, which kept the name Order of Saint Jean.
The Orders of Saint John in today's world
Over the centuries 4 Orders of Saint John developed within Protestantism :
- Great Bailiwick in Brandenburg comprising 8 German commanderies. It is very active with 11 hospitals, 46 retirement homes, 8,000 salaried workers and about 30,000 voluntary workers. Five non-German comanderies were added in Finland, Hungary, Switzerland, France.
- Commandery in the Netherlands
- Commandery in Sweden
- Commandery in the United Kingdom to which are attached those in South Africa, Canada, New-Zealand, Australia as well as a Society of the Order in the United States.
The different organisations are joined under the umbrella of the “Alliance of the Orders of Saint John” founded in 1961, with its headquarters in Bern. Its aim is to coordinate the various activities of the 5 orders, to develop joint international projects. Moreover, every three years the Alliance meets with representatives of the Sovereign Order of Malta.
The French commandery
The French Commandery was founded in 1960, and is true to the traditions of the Order of Hospitalliers. . In the early days of the Franco-German reconciliation, it welcomed sick people and their relatives, developing within the framework of the “Association of the Charities of Saint John”, a recognised non-profit making organisation.
From its creation, while the “humanisation of hospitals” was being discussed, the Association already cared for the families of children with leukaemia at La Croisée in the rue Laborde in Paris.
Currently the Association manages two “houses for relatives” at Necker and Saint Louis hospitals, one house for relatives in Garches, close to Raymond Poincaré hospital and one within the hospital of the Deaconnesses of Reuilly. More recently, at the request of the Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris (Paris Hospitals’ Welfare Service), the Association manages an innovative set-up : the “House of Saint John’s families” in Necker hospital to accommodate the parents and their sick children who come for a follow-up consultation or for out-patient treatment. It now has 126 beds available to the sick and their parents.
Becoming noteworthy in that field, the Order is fulfilling its mission, namely to stand by those who suffer.
In collaboration with the Swiss Commandery, and with support from the Bailiwick in Brandenburg, a health centre for the diabetic has been set up in Madagascar.
In addition, every year the French Commandery awards to a Master of Theology student from one of the five theology faculties in France, a one year scholarship to study in Jerusalem .
The spiritual commitment of the members of the Commandery is strengthened by days spent on retreat.
- Site de l’Ordre de Saint-Jean | Link
The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army, which was born and created in England, settled in France in 1881. Its aims were to evangelize and to provide the lower classes with social help.
The Taizé community
This Protestant community was founded by Pastor Roger Schutz in 1944. It became an ecumenical meeting place for young people from all over the world who seek both meaning for their lives and a commitment.
The association was founded in 1939 to help displaced people and still continues to aid refugees from all over the world and to defend their rights.
Many Protestant service organisations were created in the nineteenth century, and this for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, a very active compassion of all who were rejected by of a rapidly changing society that violently excluded those who could not adapt to it or were too old, too weak or too ill. But Protestants also wished to be identified in an area of work where the Roman Catholic Church traditionally played a prominent role.
Protestant chaplaincy in the army
Some Protestant pastors minister as army chaplains among French troops in France and in operations abroad.