|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.
|Shield of the Knights Hospitaller|
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 – 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, a photo by pariscub on Flickr.
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, a photo by pariscub on Flickr.|
A Modern Revival
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