A Genealogical Table
© John Cilia La Corte
The Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta or more simply the Order of Malta, was founded by the Blessed Gerard around 1100 to cater for the needs of the Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. Although it never lost its hospitaller ethos, the Islamic conquest of Palestine forced it into a military role, which it continued to exercise for a further six centuries and played a significant part in preventing the islamisation of Europe.
The fragmentation of the Order following its expulsion from Malta in 1798 has not only created a confusing picture of its organisation but has also lead to a proliferation of mimic “St John” orders, most of which owe their origin to the fertile imagination of a 20th century entrepeneur called Charles Pichel. Since these “orders” have no link whatsoever with the original St John Order, none will be found in this table
The wings listed here have had some irregularities in most cases and even virtual abeyances in others which would have signalled their extinction in normal circumstances. However, the survival of any organisation ultimately rests on its continuing membership and this is claimed for various reasons by each of the branches.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is the only exclusively Catholic Order and considers itself the only true heir to the Blessed Gerard’s Order. The other branches claim to be more priories or bailiwicks of the original order than Orders in their own right and accept SMOM’s supremacy acknowledging one Grandmaster in the person of the Grandmaster of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The Russian Grand Priory which, contrary to popular opinion, is ecumenical rather than Orthodox, uniquely justifies its existence on the hereditary principle as a result of the creation of Hereditary Commanders by Grandmaster Paul I. The Johanniterorden is open mainly to members of the Lutheran persuasion and claims direct descent from the Bailiwick of Brandenburg which separated from the main Order during the Reformation. The Venerable Order is predominantly an Anglican institution and enjoys the protection of the British Monarch who is also its Sovereign Head.
The last two formed an Alliance in 1961 and have signed a joint declaration, falling short of recognition, with SMOM.
Why a genealogical table? Genealogy is the science of proving step by step into the past a person’s ancestry so that, at each stage, only the direct parentage is proved. By applying these principles to an organisation such as the Order of St John, it is possible to show in the clearest and simplest way the descent of the present day branches and how they are linked to the Order founded by the Blessed Gerard.