The Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem was one of the three great military orders of knighthood in the Middle Ages.
According to legendary sources, the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus pre-dates the Crusades. Tradition says that Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Cæsarea, founded a leper hospital near Cæsarea in 369 CE. In the following century, the hospitaller monks there established another hospital at Ptolemaïs, gradually extending their mission to include caring for pilgrims to the Holy Land. In 530 CE, they moved their headquarters to Jerusalem, where they established themselves outside the walls of the city at the Gate of Saint Ladre, on the site of an earlier leper hospital that had been founded in the time of the Jewish High Priest, John Hyrcanus, who reigned 135 to 105 BCE.
The Order began to acquire a military character during the crusades, when it began to admit members of the military Orders of Saint John, of the Temple, and of the Holy Sepulcher who had become leprous. Because many knights of the Order were lepers who considered themselves the “living dead,” the Order acquired a reputation for bravery — death in the defense of their faith held no terrors for them.
The hospital is claimed to have been officially established as a military and hospitaller order in 1098, when the Christians captured Jerusalem. The Order was entrusted with the defense of the castles of Kharbet el-Zeitha and Madjel el-Djemeriah. It began to acquire properties throughout Palestine and Europe by gift from wealthy patrons. Baldwin IV, the Leper King of Jerusalem, was especially generous. However, claims of an early date as a military order might be exaggerated. When Louis VII of France granted the hospital the Barony of Boigny in 1154, there was no mention of its military role.
When the Muslims re-captured Jerusalem in 1187, Saladin took the Saint Lazarus hospital under his personal protection. He permitted the poor of the city who could not pay ransom to leave Jerusalem by Saint Ladre’s Gate and take refuge in the hospital of the Order.
In 1191, the Order moved its headquarters to the coastal city of Saint Jean d’Acre, formerly Ptolemaïs, where it built a fortress-hospice and the Church of Saint Lazarus des Chevaliers. The Order acquired sovereign rights over a portion of the city outside the walls and was recognized as a sovereign power by the Pope and other temporal rulers. It was also granted Saint Lazarus’ Tower and the Church of Saint Lazarus near Caesarea.
The Order shared the gradual defeat of Europe’s crusading project over the next hundred years. Most of the leper knights of the Order were slain in the Battle of Gaza in 1244. Those who were not present at Gaza accompanied St. Louis IX of France on his Egyptian Crusade and took part in his expeditions against Syria during the years 1250 to 1254. The first evidence of the hospital as a chivalric order was the 1254 Bull “Cum a nobis petitur,” which confirmed the brothers of Saint Lazarus as a military and hospitaller order under the rule of Saint Augustine. When Saint Jean d’Acre fell to the Moslems in 1291, the European orders retreated to Europe and lost their crusading function.
Amalgamation in Italy
The Vatican attempted to amalgamate the Order of Saint Lazarus with the Order of Saint John in 1489. The effort was unsuccessful. Both the Priory of Capua in Italy and the Priory of Boigny in France resisted amalgamation. In 1517, the Pope recognized the Prior of Capua as Grand Master of the order. In 1572, the Italian order was amalgamated with the Order of St. Maurice, under the protection of the House of Savoy. The amalgamated order is now one of the royal orders of Italy.
Resistance in France
The French Priory of Boigny resisted both amalgamation with the Order of Saint John in 1489 and the appointment in 1517 of the Italian Prior of Capua as Grand Master. In 1557, the French king assumed control of the Boigny Priory and continued the order in France as a separate, royal French order. All royal French orders were abolished by the revolutionary assembly in 1791. Some of the French orders were later restored, but the Order of Saint Lazarus was not.
Although the details are controversial, a modern Order of St. Lazarus claims continuity from the original order through a survival of the royal French order. Operating under the patronage of the Duke of Seville, the order has become quite popular among middle-class Americans.
Critics of the independent order assert that the last knight of the royal French order was admitted about 1788 and that the last surviving member died in 1857. They contend that the independent order was established in 1910 as a revival of the extinct order.
Conrad Hauri (”Chunradus dictus Hornus miles”), a knight of the Order of Saint Lazarus, was living at the order’s Commandery of Gfenn, near Dübendorf, Zürich. He was named in a charter dated 13 April 1272, when the order sold the church at Meiringen to Kloster Interlaken. This is the first mention of anyone with the surname Hauri and led to my particular interest in the order.
- For information on the Order of SS. Maurice and Lazarus, see Ordine dei Santi Maurizio e Lazzaro.
- For information on the Order of St. Lazarus as an independent survival, see The Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem.
- For a critique of the claims of the independent Order of St. Lazarus, see Guy Stair Sainty’s The Order of Saint Lazarus.