Knights of Lazarus were a group of knights diagnosed with leprosy in Jerusalem. The order of St Lazarus was a haven for leprosy-ridden knights where they were taken care of.
In addition to being a nursing home for the affected knights, the order served in many important battles of the time. Let us take a ride into the world of knights of St Lazarus and their legacy.
Order of Saint Lazarus
The Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem was remembered by its many names. It was also called the Leper warrior, Leper brothers of Jerusalem, or simply Lazarist. The order was founded around the start of the 12th century. It was founded based on catholic military orders and needs in a leper hospital in Jerusalem.
The exact origin of the order is unknown. But its first introduction in history was in 1119. Jerusalem was under the rule of Franks. At that time, many knights were affected by leprosy. To cater to their needs, a hospital was constructed specially for them. The hospital took in any knight, man, woman, and child with leprosy and treated them.
The order was named after the first patron, St Lazarus. The leper hospital was primarily for nursing and medical purposes, but gradually the knights of Saint Lazarus started taking an active part in the military conquests of the state. The kingship and the kingdom accepted the contributions and role of the leper knights in their militia.
In the history of crusades and catholicism, there are six important men with the same name, Lazarus. Most of them were saints. It is hard to justify that after which Lazarus the original order was formed. But one can speculate that it might be the Lazarus that Jesus brought back to life, or it may be the beggar Lazarus who was suspected of leprosy.
As each order had specific symbols and representation, so did the order of St. Lazarus. Their flag had a white base with a green eight-pointed Maltese cross on top. The color green symbolizes growth, renewal, and rebirth. Some historians suggest that this green cross is the reason that retail medical stores and pharmacies around the world use it as a universal sign of healing.
The knights were true catholic and crusaders. The official language of the order was Latin. To understand the need for a leper hospital in Jerusalem and its emergence in the 12th century, we must understand the disease itself and its link to Christianity.
Also called Hansen’s disease, Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by the Mycobacterium leprae. It can occur at any age.
The main symptoms of this disease are nodules on the skin, loss of sensation in limbs, discolored patches on the skin, dry and dull skin, loss of eyebrows, and painless ulcers. The bacteria affects the peripheral nerves of the infected person, which causes him to lose sensation.
In medieval times, leprosy was a very common but dreadful disease. Any person who contracted it was bound to die early. When someone was diagnosed with leprosy, special care was required to help the infected live a normal life until he is alive. As the disease was quite common, many knights in the army were affected.
In ancient times, leprosy was thought to have no cure. The presence of this disease throughout the world around the 12th century was confirmed by various excavations. The unearthed skeletons showed signs of curved limbs and confirmed that leprosy was indeed nothing less than horror in the earlier times.
That is why the leper hospital in Jerusalem was constructed. Any knight in the catholic army that was diagnosed with leprosy was taken to the hospital and cared for. The services of the hospital were so profound that the Kings and rich merchants used to donate hefty amounts in the name of charities and welfare.
Leprosy and Catholicism
In Catholicism, leprosy had its definition and reasons. The person affected by leprosy was thought to be the chosen one. It was believed that Jesus had blessed him, and he would go straight to the heavens above when he died. In some places in historical scriptures, the Christians are directed to take very good care of their lepers, drink their leftover water, and eat their leftover food.
Legal Code of the Order of St Lazarus
As the order mainly had knights, the administration thought that it would be best if volunteering knights were allowed back on the field. This proved to be very fruitful for the knights and the armies. As the knights regained the purpose of their life and the army had additional help.
Soon after establishing the order of St. Lazarus in Jerusalem, a legal code of conduct was written. According to this code, anyone could be admitted to the order; if any knight wanted to fight, he had full support from the order, and lastly, any knight diagnosed with leprosy had to come forward and join the brethren.
The legal code played an important part in the smooth running and expansion of the order. The medieval orders of knights were so successful that it was expanded to many different states and countries. After Jerusalem, the order of St. Lazarus was formed in Hungary, Switzerland, Southern Italy, France, and England.
The higher authorities and the catholic leaders of each state offered buildings and donations to the order wholeheartedly. It was like the brethren became international. It was due to its righteous rules and intentions that the knights of the order helped and aided the catholic armies in many battles and gained victory.
History shows that with the increasing fame of the order of Saint Lazarus, many knights and soldiers that did not even have leprosy joined the brethren. Most of them joined as volunteers and stayed for the fight. The administration welcomed them with open arms. The healthy recruits were a great addition to the order.
The Order of Saint Lazarus and King Baldwin IV
King Baldwin IV was the son of King Amalric of Jerusalem and Agnes of Courtenay. He was suspected of leprosy at the age of 9 when William of Tyre observed that Baldwin does not cry when he is pinched in his right arm. The physician did not properly diagnose Balwin with leprosy but warned them that the boy would develop the disease as he has no sensation in his right arm.
When Amalric found out that his only son, the next king of Jerusalem, might have leprosy, he was saddened. According to rule, Baldwin must join the Order of Saint Lazarus as a leper and grow up to be a knight. But Amalric could not let that happen. If Baldwin joins the order, he will not become the next king of Jerusalem, and the throne will go to someone else.
For this reason, Amalric started Baldwin’s treatment in secret. He asked the Arabs to treat his son and make him learn all the necessary qualities of a knight with one hand. Baldwin learned horse riding and sword fighting while showing the initial signs of leprosy. Soon after his father, King Amalric, died.
The death of his father was a triggering factor for Baldwin, and his leprosy worsened. He was nevertheless crowned as the king, and with his advisor Raymond of Tripoli, he ruled Jerusalem. It is suspected that after his coronation, he also joined the order of Saint Lazarus as a true brother of the brethren.
The Military Role of the Order of the Saint Lazarus
The knights of the order are known to have taken part in many important battles and crusades. Here we discuss their contribution to some of these battles:
– Battle of Hattin
The battle of Hattin, also known as the battle of the Horns of Hattin, was fought between the crusaders of Levant and Saladin, the Ayubid Sultan. In this battle, Muslims gained back control of the holy land. The lives of the citizens and crusaders were spared. The knights of Saint Lazarus fought valiantly against the Saladin’s army with their leper brother, Baldwin IV.
– Battle of La Forbie
The battle of La Forbie, also called the Battle of Hiribiya, was fought in 1244. It was fought between the Ayubid Sultan of Damascus and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The knight orders of the Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem were called upon for help. Even though the crusaders lost the battle and the Sultanate won, the knights of Saint Lazarus fought well.
– The Siege of Acre
The Kingdom of Jerusalem fell in July of 1244. The headquarters of the order shifted to Acre. They retained their original name and status. The fall of Acre took place in 1291. The crusaders lost control over Acre. The Muslim Mamluks took over.
The Muslims won the war, but the knights of the order fought in the war from the side of the crusaders.
The Last of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem
After the fall of Acre, the order of Saint Lazarus and its knights moved to Cyprus. Due to back-to-back defeats in the wars, the knights left all military activities. Their sole purpose was to focus on giving care and medical attention to those who needed it most.
In the 16th century, only two true branches of the original order remained. One branch was situated in France and the other one in Italy. The French branch was in favor of the royal patrons. After the french revolution, the branch was eventually extinguished.
The order of Saint Lazarus in Italy was merged with another order, consequently leaving the name behind. In Germany, the order was merged with the Knights of Saint John. In England, the lands of the order were confiscated as “enemy property,” and in Hungary, the Ottoman Empire took the lands.
The Order of Saint Lazarus and the Other Orders
The order was formed at many different places when it was at its peak. Different kingships and countries ordered donations and buildings for their smooth working.
When the original order at Jerusalem and then at Acre fell, the order everywhere took a hit. They were either merged with other orders or diminished altogether.
Here we look at some of the most important mergers:
– Knights of Saint John
Knights of Saint John or Knights Hospitaller was an order situated in Jerusalem. They were mainly a hospital, treating any ailment and diseases. Primarily they took in knights, but civilians were also helped. The knights that were treated here became part of the order and fought with them. After the downfall of Acre, the knights of the original order of Saint Lazarus joined Knights Hospitaller. Here they performed the same tasks as they did before and received the same care.
After the merger, the hospitaller was renamed the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. The organization became a military, religious, and medical cohort. The order was represented by a white cross on a red background.
After Saladin took over Jerusalem, the order migrated to Rhodes and then to Malta. The order eventually died down when Napoleon came into power. The knights have thought to disperse in Europe in their separate ways.
– Order of Saint Maurice
The Order of Saint Maurice was a Roman Catholic dynastic order of knighthood. It was ordained by the famous House of Savoy in 1572. It is thought of as the second oldest order of knighthood in the world. It had great support from the House of Savoy and the Italian Republic.
The order of Saint Lazarus was merged with the order of Saint Maurice in Italy when the original order of Saint Lazarus lost its headquarters in Jerusalem. The new order was named Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus. The order is thought to have more than 2000 members.
The new order combined the military and medical services. Many noticeable emperors, kings, knights, maharajas, and politicians were a part of this esteem order. The order had an intricate system for awarding ranks and badges to the members based on their social statuses.
– Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The order of Our Lady of Mount Camel was a French military order founded by King Henry IV. The order was merged with SaintLazarus in 1608. The new order was named Royal Military and Hospitaller Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem united.
The order enjoyed full protection and immunity from the French government. They were highly funded and entitled. The order took part in various battles.
After the French revolution in 1830, the order was dismissed. It was no longer supported by the new government. The knights were relieved of their duties and rank.
The Order of Saint Lazarus Today
In Orlando, Florida, in the United States of America, the only existing branch of knights of Lazarus exists.
They call themselves “The Military and Hospitaller Order Of Saint Lazarus Of Jerusalem.” They claim to have kept the legal code of the original order and its essential regulations in place. It is operated as a non-profit organization.
As leprosy is now a treatable disease and rarely seen, the main aim of the organization is to help the poor, the needy, and the sick. They help anyone unable to help themselves. The organization claims that it operates above the discrimination against any race, religion, or color.
The order accepts donations. They also welcome volunteers for local and international work. Their goal is to spread awareness about the real values of Christianity and make the world a better place, one day at a time.
In addition to the order in Orlando, different cities in different countries house the order and have given it their touch. Despite there being no link between the orders, the purpose remains the same: to help the poor and sick.
In Media and Cinema
The knights of Saint Lazarus have been depicted in many different tv series and films. The most famous among such series is Knightfall and A Discovery of Witches. Such historical series have been very popular among Christians and young people.
Many books have also been written on the matter, like Leper Knights by David Marcombe and The Sword and the Green Cross by Max J. Ellul. These books have won literary awards and remain famous with the readers and historians.
Here are the main points of the Order of Saint Lazarus’ legacy:
- The Order of Saint Lazarus housed the knights who were diagnosed with leprosy
- The order was formed in a hospital that used to treat leprosy-affected individuals
- Leprosy was common in the 12th and 13th centuries
- The knights started taking part in the wars
- King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem was diagnosed with leprosy
- The order was formed in various territories
- The original order fell with the fall of Acre in 1291
- “Constitution of The Order.” The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. 2015. Archived from the original on 29 June 2015. Retrieved 25 May 2015.
- Morris of Balgonie Ygr., Stuart H. (1986). The Insignia and Decorations of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. Perthshire.
- Sainty (ed.), Guy Stair (2006). World Orders of Knighthood and Merit.
- Savona-Ventura, Charles (2014). The History of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. New York: Nova Publishers.