THE ALLIANCE OF ORDERS
OF THE HOSPITAL OF ST JOHN OF JERUSALEM

The Alliance of Orders of St John - a federation of the official primarily Protestant Orders of St John in Europe - was formed in 1961, on the initiative of then Swiss Commander, Baron M R von Sturler. The Convention of the Alliance of Knightly Orders of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem was signed in Nieder-Weisel on 13 June 1961 by representatives of the Orders of St John in Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden. Also affiliated to the Alliance are the Commanderies in Finland, France, Switzerland and Hungary, which are all linked with the Bailiwick of Brandenburg. [see Annex A]

The main purpose behind the creation of the Alliance was to strengthen the international standing of the Protestant Orders of St John in Europe and to facilitate a united front in matters of common concern. During the Second World War, Baron von Sturler, from his neutral but key position as Commander in Bern, had been in close contact with the various Orders of St John and their individual members, as well as with the Sovereign Order of Malta. That co-operation continued after the war; but it then proved increasingly difficult for the members of the Orders of St John, with their limited resources, to make a significant contribution among the many rapidly expanding international aid organisations with similar aims of their own, many of which had their headquarters in Geneva. The idea was thus born of forming an Alliance of the various official non-Catholic Orders of St John, as a first stage towards wider international co-operation in the future.

A second reason why such an Association was thought necessary during the post-war era was the growth of illegitimate, or unrecognised, Orders claiming the same historical background as the four official Orders of St John and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. A number of these unrecognised Orders had been formed after World War II, some in the USA and spreading from there to Europe. This was source of irritation and confusion.

When the Alliance of Orders of St John was formed, therefore, its main tasks were defined as first, to spread knowledge of the purpose, organisation and activities of the Alliance and its member Orders; and secondly, to keep a close watch on, and if necessary counteract, the negative effects resulting from confusion with any Unrecognised Order.

This led the Alliance to publish in 1964 the forerunner of this booklet. It aimed briefly to describe not only the history of the Alliance members, but also to give some idea of the nature and scope of their practical charitable activities. These were especially important in Britain and Germany, where the respective Orders occupy somewhat the same position as, for example, the Red Cross does in Sweden. Most of the members of the Alliance have it in common, that they concentrate mainly on national charitable activities, and have only limited funds available for international projects. There are certain major exceptions to this, however. First, the (London-based) Venerable Order of St John has a major eye hospital in Jerusalem where the German Order also runs a general hospital. Secondly, because of its world-wide network described above, the Venerable Order has significant activities outside Europe in the older Commonwealth countries and also does further work (e.g. in First Aid training and Primary Healthcare) in some 30 developing countries in the Commonwealth where it has branches. Several of its Priories also undertake First Aid training in other countries such as Japan, Jordan and Mexico. Thirdly, the Johanniter Unfall Hilfe in Germany now has a significant aid programme abroad, in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and elsewhere.

At a subsequent meeting in Bubikon in 1964, it was decided to open a permanent secretariat for the Alliance in Geneva. Its original aim was to co-ordinate international activities; and to organise the necessary contact with the Sovereign Order of Malta, the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN humanitarian and social agencies, as well as other organisations, in that city.

At the Alliance Meeting in London held in 1967, it was decided to make the following addition to the information contained in the first (1964) booklet about the Alliance Orders of St John.

  1. Only the member Orders of the Alliance of Orders of St John, and the Sovereign Order of Malta (whose headquarters are in Rome) are recognised by the Alliance as historically legitimate Orders of St John.
  2. No other Orders, associations or organisations shall in future be recognised as Orders of St John without consultation of and a unanimous resolution by all members of the Alliance of Orders of St John.

This remains the firm policy of the Alliance.

Finally, an historic declaration was circulated on 14 October 1987, and was signed by the four Orders of the Alliance as a joint declaration with the Grand Master of the (Roman Catholic) Sovereign Military Order of Malta. This formally confirmed the status of the five official Orders of St John. The text is at Annex B.

The Council of the Alliance meets annually, usually in the country of one of its members. There are also regular co-ordination meetings with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta at various different levels.

The "False Orders Committee" is an independent Committee, established by the initiative of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in 1974. The four recognised Orders of St John in the Alliance are represented on this Committee. In the context of the wider scene of unrecognised orders of Chivalry, the FOC is charged with preventing the misuse of the names, emblems and official documents of its Member Orders, and to forestall unlawful acts arising from the imitation of those names and emblems. In addition to, but separate from, the False Orders Committee, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Orders of the Alliance of St John have constituted a Joint Commission on Emblem Protection. This seeks to prevent unauthorised use of the white eight-pointed cross.

ANNEX A - Convention signed in Niederweisel on the 13th June 1961

Two years later, on 26 November 1963, the Alliance was consolidated with the signing of a joint declaration between the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Most Venerable Order, at St John's Gate, London, by the Grand Chancellor of the SMHOM, the Prince of Resuttano, and Lord Wakehurst, Lord Prior of the Most Venerable Order. The text of this document reads:

The relationship which exists between the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta and the Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem is not always clearly understood, and it is to dispel any misconceptions which may exist that this statement is being made.

A dispute, long since relegated to the realms of academic discussion, as to whether the Most Venerable Order was the lineal descendent of the old Grand Priory of the Sovereign Order, at one time caused division amongst those concerned with such questions. Certain it is that the Most Venerable Order acquired a completely independent existence when it was granted a Royal Charter by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, who became its Sovereign Head.

Since this time the Most Venerable Order has pursued the same high ideals of charity, especially to the poor and sick, which were the very cause of the foundation of the Sovereign Order nearly one thousand years ago.

It will be easy to understand, therefore, why two great Orders, representing the same traditions, pursuing the same ideals, serving the same cause and wearing the same famous eight pointed cross, should have the greatest respect and esteem for each other. It is our great happiness to declare that such a relationship does truly exist, and that it is the dearest wish of both Orders, to seek ever more ways in which they can collaborate, to promote God's glory and to alleviate the sufferings and miseries of mankind.

To supplement this statement, a further agreement was drawn up between the SMHOM and the Venerable Order in 1983. This was signed by Sir Maurice Dorman, Lord Prior of the Most Venerable Order and Sir Peter Hope, KCMG, then President of the British Association of the Sovereign Military Order. It reads as follows:

Twenty years have passed since the signing of the Joint Declaration concerning the relationship between the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Most Venerable Order of St. John, during which the relationship between our two Orders has grown ever closer.

In it the common ideal of the struggle in the defense of our suffering brethren was affirmed and the amity between the signatory Orders was acclaimed especially the common wearing of the eight-pointed Cross of St. John.

The last two decades have seen an increase in the world-wide suffering of our brethren, our response has likewise expanded. The banner of our eight-pointed Cross has been flown increasingly where-ever in the world sickness or distress have made demands upon us. Our ties are strong and our purpose to help Our Lords the Sick identical. We are pleased to record our joint efforts to help the elderly which have already seen the creation of Alms Houses in Sussex and Wales.

We are also united in one fight against False Orders, those self constituted and self styled groups which lack both authenticity or legitimacy of origin but variously describe themselves as an "Order of St. John" or an "Order of Malta". However the Johanniter Orden in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands is a legitimate and honoured ally.

We pledge ourselves anew to carry into the Twentyfirst Century the historical aims and obligations of our Orders.

The most recent agreement between the five Orders culminated in a further statement which clarifies the difference between those Orders which are recognized as such by the Sovereign authorities of the countries in which they are based and the self-styled "Orders of Saint John" whose pretension to be Orders of Chivalry are unrecognized by such sovereign authorities. Confirming the close and friendly relations between the five Orders, this statement reads as follows:

ANNEX B: Joint Declaration dated 14 October 1987.

 

 

 

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