Order of Saint John

Insignia of the Order of Saint John

The Insignia

Worn originally by the merchants of the Italian republic of Amalfi, the white cross was adopted in 1023 by Benedictine monks who cared for the sick and injured in the Holy City of Jerusalem. From these beginnings of service to Christian pilgrims, the Order of St. John was born. The four arms of the cross symbolize the Christian virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude. The points of the cross represent the eight Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, which praise the spiritual strength of the underprivileged and those who work for peace and the relief of suffering. The whiteness of the cross symbolizes the purity of life required of those who wear the emblem. 

In 1888, Queen Victoria granted a Royal Charter incorporating the Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. To signify this the lion and the unicorn are added to the cross. 

Since the days of the Crusades, The Order of St. John has grown into a worldwide non-profit, non-denominational, multi-cultural, charitable organization, committed to the service of others. 

The Order

St. John Ambulance is one of two foundations of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. The other foundation is the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem, which specializes in the research and treatment of eye diseases.

Through its two branches, the Association and the Brigade, St. John Ambulance is committed to enabling everyone to improve their health, safety and quality of life by providing training and community service. 

The St. John Ambulance Association is a network of medical professionals and program development specialists who develop first aid and health promotion courses. 

The St. John Ambulance Brigade is a group of uniformed volunteers who serve their community in many ways, from providing first aid at public events to raising the spirits of seniors at retirement homes.

The Beginnings

In a time of war and persecution, one thousand years after the birth of Christ, a united force was growing in the Holy Land. For centuries, Christian pilgrims were bullied and persecuted as they made the formidable journey on foot from all parts of Christendom to the Holy City of Jerusalem. From at least as early as 600 AD, the Holy City had offered a resting place for pilgrims. The hostel for pilgrims was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries, depending on the state of Christian/Muslim relations. Four hundred years later, all Christian buildings in Jerusalem were destroyed. In 1023, pious and wealthy merchants from the Italian republic of Amalfi built a church and a new hospital for pilgrims. Attended by Benedictine monks, who took the emblem of the white Cross of Amalfi as their symbol, the hospital was the rallying point for the unified force that became the first order of chivalry in the world. Warrior knights from across Europe came to the aid of their fellow Christians and joined the monks under the banner of the eight-pointed white cross. 

The bloody and bitter struggles of the Middle Ages shaped the development of the Order of St. John from hospitallers and knights in the Holy Land, to the strongest naval force in the Mediterranean. Forced to move from one stronghold to another over the centuries, the Order established a hospital in each new homeland. By the eighteenth century, the Order was solely devoted to acts of charity. 

In 1798, with the capture of Malta, the Order of St. John ceased its military activities. After a revival of the Order in England, the modern role of the organization began to emerge. In 1870, the Order pledged itself to provide voluntary aid to the sick and wounded in war. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1872), 200 surgeons, nurses and other workers devoted themselves to the care of stricken soldiers on behalf of the Order of St. John. In 1877, the Order of St. John inaugurated the St. John Ambulance Association "to train men and women for the benefit of sick and wounded." Courses in first aid for the general public began.


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