The original, medieval Order of St John survives today as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, and the other members of the Alliance Orders. The Order is historically a Christian Order tracing its beginning to a hospital probably founded in about 1080 by the brothers of the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Mary Latina.
This Order may be regarded as the first of the Chivalric Orders of Knighthood that were imitated across Europe, both as religious military foundations, and later as princely awards for allies and supporters. The Order has two mottos: Pro Fide, Pro Utilitate Hominum (For the Faith and in the Service of Humanity). These two mottos reflect the source and purpose of the Order’s life.
Almsgiving by the Hospitaller brothers, from Stabilimenta Rhodiorum Militum, (Statutes of the Order) printed in Ulm in 1496. Courtesy of Museum of The Order of St. John
During its existence in Jerusalem, the Order provided hospitality and medical care to visitors and pilgrims and was already in operation when the First Crusade captured Jerusalem in 1099. The original Hospital (the precursor of today’s St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital) was divided into wards and may have had as many as 2,000 beds at the peak of Christian rule.
The Order's Hospital in Nimes, France, in the early 16th century. Courtesy of Guy Stair Sainty, KStJ
Through the introduction of relatively sophisticated Arab medical techniques, western European knowledge of medicine was considerably improved and enlarged. This early work of the Order firmly established its mission, which continues to this day.