Before the crusades, at Jerusalem, outside the walls of the Holy City, there was a leper hospital dedicated to Saint Lazarus. Under the authority of the Greek Melkite Patriarchs of Jerusalem, it was served by Armenian monks according to the Rule of Saint Basil the Great. The Order of Saint Lazarus stems from that hospital.
When the crusaders arrived in the Holy Land in 1098, the Saint Lazarus Hospital as well as the Saint John Hospital, regrouped under the name of The Hospital of Jerusalem, were administered by Brother Gérard Tenque, who originated from Martigues in France.
Contrary to other military and religious orders established in the Holy Land, Saint John or Saint Mary of the Teutonic Knights who were under the control of the Latin Church, the Order of Saint Lazarus remained under the control of the Oriental Church. In the absence of the Greek Melkite Patriarch, the Master of Saint Lazarus was suffragan Armenian archbishop.
The Saint Lazarus hospitallers cared for lepers and had to receive amongst them knights suffering from leprosy from other orders. That was how the Order became military.
Following the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1157, the military action of the Saint Lazarus Hospitaller Knights increased. They took part in the capture of Acre in 1191. They were also with Emperor Frederic ll of Hohenstaufen, King of Jerusalem, during his crusade in 1227. In 1244 they took a heroic part in the disastrous battle of Gaza. Then, with the French King, the Saint Lazarus Knights fought at Damietta and at the battle of Mansoura (1249). During the siege of Saint-Jean d’Acre in 1291, with the knights of the other orders, they were the heroic defenders of the last oriental Christian citadel. The survivors sought refuge in Cyprus from where they regained France.
At that time, Commanderies of the Order existed in numerous countries : France, England, Scotland, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Flanders, etc…In 1154, the King of France, Louis Vll, gave the royal castle of Boigny near Orleans to the Order of Saint Lazarus. After the loss of its possessions in the Holy Land with the fall of Saint-Jean d’Acre in 1291, and a brief passage in Cyprus, the Order rejoined its European commandery. Boigny became the headquarters of the Grand Magistracy.
In 1308, the King of France, Philippe lV le Bel, took all Knights of Saint Lazarus under his guard and protection and this act henceforth became hereditary in French monarchy.
Under the direction of the Grand Master, residing in Boigny, the Order of Saint Lazarus dedicated itself in the various countries where it had commanderies to the care of lepers and to the creation of many lazarets and leper houses.
During the XIV and XV centuries, the knights developed their hospital activity and their military function grew in importance. They were notably alongside the King of France during the Hundred Years War and some were companions of Joan of Arc at the siege of Orleans
But the Order of Saint Lazarus had to face many difficulties at the end of the XV century.
In 1517 the Priory of Capua broke away from the Grand Magistracy of Boigny and set up a separate branch of the Order which, in 1572, joined the Order of Saint Maurice to form the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus under the hereditary Grand Magistracy of the Ducs de Savoie (House becoming thereafter the Royal House of Italy). In England, when King Henry Vlll broke away from the Catholic Church in 1534 he integrated the Order’s possessions into the royal domain. In Germany and Switzerland, during the Reform, the Orders possessions were seized.
In France, thanks to the hereditary protection of the Kings of France, the Order of Saint Lazarus escaped any absorption or despoilment. The Grand Masters of Boigny played an important role. This was the case of François Salviati (1578-1586) who, with the aid of
Henry lll maintained the international character of the Order; or that of Aimard de Clermont de Chastes (1593-1603) who was Vice-Admiral of France and Companion to the King.
In 1607 King Henry lV founded the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and entrusted in 1608 the Grand Magistracy to the Grand Master of the Order of Saint Lazarus, the Marquis of Nerestang. The two united Orders had a common existence for just over one and a half centuries until 1788, without fusion or confusion. However, from 1779 each Order resumed specific recruitment and insignia.
In 1612, warships flying the colours of the united Orders took part in the expeditions to Niger. In 1666, the Orders of Saint Lazarus and of Our Lady of Mount Carmel made up a fleet of warships under the flag of the Orders for which the home port was Saint Malo. This squadron comprised ten frigates. Finally, in 1677, the Orders founded a Naval Academy in Paris.
In 1672, King Louis XlV entrusted the Knights of Saint Lazarus and of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with the administration of all leper houses, hospitals and nursing homes of the kingdom. The united Orders thus constituted a real Ministry of Health until 1693.
Under the Grand Magistracy of the Marquis of Dangeau (1693-1720) the Orders experienced a prosperous period and spread their recruiting to various countries: Spain, Naples, Saxony, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and among the Christians of the Orient, faithful in this to the origins of the Order of Saint Lazarus.
After the Duc d’Orleans, first royal prince, Prince Louis de France, Duc de Berry and future Louis XVl, was invested with the Grand Magistracy in 1757. During this investiture, the Orders were secularized by the Papal Bull “Militarium ordinum institutio” of Clement XlV on 10 December 1772. They lost their religious character to become secular institutions proposing a spiritual rule of life to their members.
The Duc de Berry becoming Dauphin of France withdrew from his function as Grand Master. His brother, the Count of Provence, future Louis XVlll, succeeded him to this office in 1773.
By a ruling of 21st January 1779, the new Grand Master separated the recruitment of the united Orders. Henceforth, the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was reserved exclusively for the students of the Military Academy. The last class graduated in July 1787 and the academy was abolished in 1788. King Louis XVl attributed the buildings of the Military Academy to the Knights of the Order of Saint Lazarus, by letters patent in September 1787.
The events of 1789 prevented the Order from pursuing its activities. There was no traditional Saint Lazarus investiture on the 17th December 1789 and the revolutionary government confiscated all the Order’s possessions in 1797, including the commandery of the Grand Magistracy at Boigny. The Count of Provence emigrated but continued to run the Order and to nominate knights. He awarded the Order to the Tsar Paul 1 of Russia and to the future Tsar Alexander 1 in 1799 and to King Gustav lV of Sweden in 1808: the secularization of the Order allowing admittance to non catholic Christians. A new vocation of the Order appeared, that of Christian unity.
In 1814, when King Louis XVlll returned to France, the Order of Saint Lazarus reasserted itself, but the King relinquished the Magistracy and chose to simply remain Protector.
At his death in 1824 his successor, King Charles X became Protector of the Order, which was now governed by a Council of Officers, amongst which the Commander Count d’Albignac and the Commander Marquis D’Autichamp seconded by Baron Silvestre, Herald of the Order.
Louis XVlll as Protector of the Order does not appear to have authorized any nominations or promotions in the Order; however, under the protectorate of King Charles X, ten or so nominations attest to its renewal.
During the 1830 revolution, the Knights of Saint Lazarus lost their Protector, King Charles X being forced into exile, and Louis-Philippe, King of the French, being uninterested, they turned towards their first Protector, the Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarch. In 1841, Patriarch Maximos lll Malzoum accepted to reassume this protection. Since then, the heads of the Melkite Church of Saint Nicolas of Myra, in Marseilles receive the title of Chaplain of the Order of Saint Lazarus
Being secular in character since 1772, the Order had no longer any formal link to the Holy See. The loss of their Spiritual Protector, the King of France since Philippe le Bel, enforced them to seek a guarantor for their continuity. The choice of the Greek Catholic Patriarch is a fundamental turning point in the history of the Order. The Saint Lazarus Hospitaller Knights will thus renew with the humility of their origins and fall within the continuity of the framework of the Papal Bull “Militarium ordinum institutio”.
As of 1844, they participated in a major operation within the framework of their new engagements: the reconstruction of the Monastery of Mount Carmel near Jerusalem.
During the second part of the XlX century, the last knights named during the Restoration were joined by the knights named by successive patriarchs in order to maintain the service of the Order. This was formally confirmed by Patriarch Maximos V and totally accepted by the present Patriarch, Gregory lll.
In 1910, Patriarch Cyrille Vlll Ghea re-established the Order’s Chancellery in Paris which took over the Order’s destiny. After the 1914-1918 war, it developed in France, Spain and the Netherlands under the direction of a Council of Officers as in 1841.
In 1930, The Grand Magistracy was restored and François de Bourbon, Duc de Seville assumed the governance with the provisional title of Lieutenant-General.
The Order then continued its work more actively, especially aid to the sick, to lepers, to the Christians of the Orient and its action in favour of Christian unity.
In December 1935, the Chapter General meeting in France elected the Duc de Seville as Grand Master. New national associations were created, in Germany with Prince Ferdinand of Hohenzollern, in Bohemia with Prince Charles of Schwartzenberg, in Roumania with King Carol ll, in Bulgaria with King Boris lll.
During the Second World War, the Order of Saint Lazarus organized, as of 1940, an ambulance corps for the French front. During the occupation, it created a corps of voluntary first-aid workers called the “Volontaires de l’Ordre de Saint-Lazare” who saved many lives during the bombardments. Its humanitarian and patriotic action was recognized by the French government in 1945 and 1947, who awarded the “Croix de Guerre” to the Grand Chapter of the Order.
After the conflict, the Knights of Saint Lazarus developed their charitable works and the Order was recognized by several governments: Spain in 1940, Bolivia in 1950, Argentina in 1951, then Canada in 1963, Senegal in 1971, Austria in 1977, Croatia in 1992 and Hungary in1993.
In 1952, the Duc de Seville died and his son François de Bourbon was named Lieutenant-General of the Grand Magistracy then elected Grand Master in 1956.
In 1967, the Supreme Council of the Order transferred the headquarters to Boigny. The same year, the Duc de Nemours succeeded François de Bourbon as Grand Master.
In 1969, the Chapter General was required to arbitrate a dispute between the Grand Master and the government of the Order. It decided against the Duc de Nevers and proceeded to elect Pierre de Cossé, XIIth Duc de Brissac, who received the title of Lieutenant General then that of Grand Master in 1976.
The decisions of the Chapter Generals of 1967 and 1969 were officially approved by the Spiritual Protector, Patriarch Maximos V, thus ensuring their validity. .
However, certain members of the Order refused this decision and regrouped themselves around the Duc de Nemours. After his death in 1970, François de Bourbon et Bourbon became head of this group.
The Greek Catholic Patriarch, guarantor of the legitimacy and continuity of the Order set up a conciliation committee which led, in 1987 at the Oxford Chapter General, to the election of a new Grand Master for the entire united Order. François de Cossé, Marquis de Brissac, was elected 48th Grand Master and Supreme Head of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint-Lazarus of Jerusalem, « as much afore as beyond the seas ».
After the death of his father, the 04 April 1993, he became the Xlll Duc de Brissac
Today, the Order of Saint Lazarus is present on all continents and its hospital action, traditionally turned towards the lepers of Africa, is now developing in all central and oriental European countries, especially in war stricken ex-Yugoslavia.
The 1987 Chapter General having never been totally implemented, a new Chapter General was organized in September 2008 in Manchester during which the reunification of the two factions, Paris (Duc de Brissac) and Malta (Duc de Seville), was fully achieved.
It is important to recall here certain principles which, as the study of our history has just proved, must absolutely be respected in order to guarantee legitimacy.
The first concerns the autonomy of the Order, which is not dependent on any exogenous authority (contrary for example to certain Royal or Vatican based Orders), which has had throughout history a consequence of paramount importance: no authority other than its Chapter General could have pronounced its dissolution. This of course never happened despite some difficult periods.
The second concerns the absolute necessity of the approval of the Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarch of all decisions of the Chapter General. Without this approval, any decision is ineffective.
The third is relative to the transmission of Knighthood by investiture; this must be without interruption and validly transmitted according to the eternal principle: any Knight may create another Knight.
These fundamental principles allow to exercise proper judgment in the stages of the life of our Order, of which the members are recruited by cooptation amongst persons “of good reputation and leading an honorable life”, belonging to one or other of the Christian denominations, in order with their Church, and committed to respect as much a spiritual rule of life as the practice of the “chivalric virtues” which are : loyalty, generosity, moderation, courtesy and honour, to uphold the Tradition and the History, and to work for Christian unity.
Henceforth therefore the Order is under the authority of a single Grand Master, Don Carlos GEREDA, Marquis d’ALMAZAN, Grandee of Spain, Cousin of HM King Juan-Carlos.