The Order of Saint Lazarus in the Kingdom of Jerusalem

The Order of Saint Lazarus in the Kingdom of Jerusalem

By C. Savona-Ventura

Journal of the Monastic Military Orders, Vol.1 (2008)

Introduction: The history of all the Military Orders which saw their origins during the Crusader period are shrouded in a haze of reality and myth. Much of the myth stems from the fact that in the 17th – 18th century the prestige of an institution or the noblesse depended more on its antiquity than on its merits. Hence, to project the best possible image, the historians of the various Orders assumed the role of enthusiastic eulogists to the detriment of objective history writing. The genealogists even went as far as to try tracing origins to personages and events in the Old Testament. The early history of the Order of Saint Lazarus is similarly influenced and any scholarly exploration must try to sieve truth from fiction; albeit limited by the loss of documentation that may have occurred over the centuries. The earliest extant date recorded in the Order’s extant Cartulary containing about 40 chapters is 1142. Previous histographers of the Order also transcribed earlier documents, the earliest dating to 1112.

There is no doubt at all that a leprosarium was established outside the walls of Jerusalem by the Empress Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius, in the fourth century A.D. The management of this establishment was left to the monastic Order following the Rule of Saint Basil. The Jerusalem establishment had its ups and downs throughout the early medieval period especially after the Christian dominance of the Holy Land came to an end in 638 A.D. when Jerusalem capitulated to Caliph Omar. The tradition linking the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem with the 4th century edifice was acknowledged in the bull Inter Assiduas of Pope Pius IV promulgated on the 15th June 1565; however, a direct link between the 4th century and the 12th century establishments remains unproven.

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