The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem,
commonly known as the Order of St John, has a unique combination of features and has its roots in a hospice (hospital) founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century.
The Order is a major international charity, accredited at the United Nations, which provides first aid, health care and support services in over 40 countries around the world through a dedicated team of around 300,000 volunteers and staff.
In each country where the Order operates significantly, a Priory has been established and this is the entity that continues the Order’s work in that territory. The Priory of England and the Islands is the parent in England that has, as its main outward-facing body, St John Ambulance.
The Order of St John itself is an Order of Chivalry of the British Crown. Her Majesty The Queen, the Sovereign Head of the Order, honours individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the work of St John by awarding membership, at different grades, in the Order. A formal investiture is held four times a year at the Priory Church in Clerkenwell, when these individuals are formally invested, on behalf of HM The Queen.
To enable these investitures and other ceremonial events the Priory of England has its own team of Ceremonial staff. The team is led by a Director of Ceremonies, who is a Principal Priory Officer, and comprises a team of 30 or so Ceremonial Staff, called Esquires, who provide ceremonial direction and support at the Investitures and at other events, especially the annual St. John’s Day celebrations at the Mansion House and St Paul’s Cathedral held every June.
The Esquires come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences but all provide the skills and expertise to ensure that all ceremonial is delivered with appropriate dignity for an Order of Chivalry of the British Crown. The Ceremonial is modelled on the other State Orders such as the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
The Processional Symbols
The Sword, made in 1944 by Wilkinson, is the symbol of the temporal jurisdiction of Her Majesty The Queen, The Sovereign Head; in Her Majesty’s absence it is borne immediately in front of His Royal Highness The Grand Prior, the Lord Prior or the Prior. It is also used when conferring the Accolade of the Order at Receptions and Investitures for Knights, and on such occasions is borne unsheathed. On all Royal occasions, and for the Service of Commemoration and Re-dedication on St John’s Day, the Sword is sheathed in the Royal or State scabbard, first used by Her Majesty The Queen in 1971: for other events the black duty scabbard is used.
The Cross is the symbol of the spiritual jurisdiction of the Dean and, when he is present, is carried immediately in front of him in procession. The Cross used today is an exact replica, made in 1982, and is a fine example parcel-gilt repoussé work; the ancient cross may be seen in the Museum at St John’s Gate.
The Priory Banner has been consecrated to represent all Members of the Priory, both the living and the departed, and all parts of the Priory operating for the Faith and in the Service of Humanity. It is carried in procession immediately in front of Priory Chapter. It displays the arms of the Priory, being Gules a cross Argent, in the first quarter a representation of the Sovereign’s Crest, the whole differenced by a Tudor Rose Argent upon Gules, barbed Vert, seeded Or, and crowned by a representation of the Royal Crown proper.