Scottish Headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Torphichen. by John and Rosie of Armadale
Scottish Headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Torphichen.
a photo by John and Rosie of Armadale on Flickr.

You’ve probably heard of the mysterious Knights Templar with their ancient traditions, supposed heresy, and martyrdom, but you might be unfamiliar with their close cousins, the Knights Hospitaller. 

This equally enigmatic order has been established in Scotland since the 12th century, and one of its most important centers was Torphichen Preceptory in West Lothian.


File:Hospitalers.svg
Shield of the Knights Hospitaller

Crusader Hospital

In case you’re wondering, yesthe Knights Hospitaller did have something to do with what we know today as “hospitals.” In the days of the Crusades, monks established infirmaries to care for wounded pilgrims to the Holy Land.

Over the centuries this evolved into protecting pilgrims from injury by providing them with armed guards. It was a short step from that to armies of powerful warriors doing battle with the local Muslims. These warrior monks were a force to be reckoned with. 




Torphichen Preceptory

David I of Scotland invited the Knights Hospitaller to his lands in 1132, and a center for the Knights was founded at Torphichen around the same time. The Hospitallers came to Scotland to recruit and collect funds for doing battle in the Middle East.


Torphichen - Torphichen Preceptory by pariscub
Torphichen – Torphichen Preceptory, a photo by pariscub on Flickr.

Though some Knights were fighters, it was still a religious order. The Preceptory included monastic buildings as well as a small hospital. A group of brothers lived there with a Preceptor as their leader, and spent their time growing food and making medicines. 

Torphichen was also a place of refuge. The carved sanctuary stone in the Preceptory kirkyard was surrounded by a ring of stones, each positioned a Scots mile away. Within that boundary any criminal or debtor could seek safety.

Torphichen - Torphichen Kirk and Preceptory by pariscub
Torphichen – Torphichen Kirk and Preceptory, a photo by pariscub on Flickr.

The Reformation

When the Knights Templar were eradicated in 1312 (punished on what were most likely trumped-up charges), their lands were transferred to the Knights Hospitaller, which helped the latter considerably. 

However, their ease would not last. The Knights sided with England in the war that made William Wallace a household name, and after the Scots’ victory at Bannockburn the Order left the country.  They later returned, but in 1560 King Henry VIII brought Protestantism to Britain, and the Order at Torphichen was never the same.


Torphichen - Torphichen Preceptory by pariscub
Torphichen – Torphichen Preceptory, a photo by pariscub on Flickr.

A Modern Revival

In the 19th century a French council determined to revive the grand old Knights Hospitaller. It is speculated that this was “essentially a ploy by which to create a mercenary army of unemployed English soldiers,” but an interesting ploy for all that. They raised money for their army, with Scotsman Donald Currie doing his part, and membership grew.

The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem is alive and well today, though they’re no army. According to the Order’s website, its mission is “to prevent and relieve sickness and injury, and to act to enhance the health and well-being of people of all races and creeds anywhere in the world.” A bit more liberal and less bloody than the original Knights Hospitaller, but the early monks might be happy.
PAP Image of Torphichen Preceptory Looking SSW by Jim Knowles

Sources:
www.saintjohn.org
www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk
www.mostly-medieval.com
en.wikipedia.org

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Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

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