Origins of the Order

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, which then had both ecclesiastical and military aspects, had its origins in the successful conclusion of the First Crusade and the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099.

The ecclesiastical role was evidenced by the Latin Patriarch - an office first founded by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 - and the Regular Canons of the Holy Sepulchre of St Augustine, who were established by Gibelin of Sabran, Archbishop of Arles and Arnulf de Roher, the Patriarch, in 1114.

Jerusalem, seen from the Mount of OlivesThe military role was initiated by the election as leader of the First Crusade of Godfrey de Bouillon, who led his men to victory in Jerusalem on July 15th 1099. Godfrey accepted the title of Protector of the Holy Sepulchre. He died in July 1100 and was succeeded by his brother Baudoin, or Baldwin I, as King. This new leader laid the foundations of the kingdom and established its main institutions on the Norman-French pattern as a centralised feudal state. He drew up the first Constitution of the chivalric Order in 1103, under which the Patriarch appointed Knights in Jerusalem at the direct service of the Crown.

The Kingdom existed for 200 years, reaching its zenith under Baldwin III (1143-1162), but suffered defeat at the hands of Saladin in 1187 at the battle of Hattin, and the Knights were finally driven out of the Holy Land at the siege of Acre in 1291.

With the dispersal of the Knights of all the Orders from the Holy Land, the Holy Sepulchre Order of Knighthood declined in strength and struggled to continue. It no longer had a natural leader and the Patriarch was in exile.

The Regular Canons of the Holy Sepulchre of St Augustine fared somewhat better. Priories were established all over Europe - as many as 2000 at one time - and there were convents of Canonesses in Germany, the Low Countries, Spain and England, of which the Canonesses of New Hall in Essex still survive.

Pilgrims with the PatriarchPope Pius IX restored the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1847. At the same time, with the Bull Nulla celebrior, the Pope gave new life to the Order by entrusting it with the primary task of supporting the activities of the newly restored Patriarchate. The Statute governing the Order has been modified several times over the years and was approved in 1996 by Pope John Paul II after its latest revision. Its charitable purpose remains unchanged: to provide a regular support of prayer and work for the Christian communities in the Holy Land, a task that has become essential in recent decades as a way to stem the emigration of Palestinian families, particularly among the Christians.

At an audience for members of the Order during their Jubilee Pilgrimage to Rome in 2000, Pope John Paul II said, "Your Equestrian Order, which began a few centuries ago as an 'Honour Guard' for the care of Our Lord's Holy Sepulchre, has enjoyed the particular attention of the Roman Pontiffs. It was Pope Pius IX, of venerable memory, who in 1847 reconstituted it in order to encourage the re-establishment of a Catholic faith community in the Holy Land. This great Pope restored your original function but with a significant difference: the custody of Christ's tomb would no longer depend on the force of arms, but on the value of a constant witness and solidarity towards Christians residing in the Holy Places. This is still your task today. May the Holy Year, which is a time for personal and community conversion, see each of you intent on fostering and deepening the three characteristic virtues of the Order: zeal for self-denial in this society of affluence, generous commitment to the weak and defenceless, and a courageous struggle for justice and peace."


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