There has been much talk about the Order of St. Lazarus (OSLJ) recently and though my personal opinion on the Order has already been published elsewhere on the excellent blog “Blog de Heráldica” maintained by my friend Maj. José Juan Carrión Rangel, I felt I should expand upon it here (this *is* my blog after all ).
The OSLJ presents itself as an Order of Nobility that continues the traditions of the ancient crusader Order of Saint Lazarus. Critics claim that the OSLJ is a self styled Order and it is no way, shape or form a nobiliary corporation.
I won’t try to go through the history of the Order, though you are welcome to read through the links above yourself.
One thing that will become evident is that the French Revolution of 1789 really muddied the waters. This is when the accounts of the Order and those of its critics diverge. The official history of the OSLJ claims that new members were admitted by the King of France in exile while critics point to a statement by the Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor from 1824 where the text reads “…Orders of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem and Our Lady of Mount Carmel united…this last has not been awarded since 1788 and is to be allowed to become extinct“. (Note that the OSLJ and Our Lady of Mount Carmel had been united in 1608)
Order of St. Lazarus and of Our Lady of Carmel
Furthermore, critics claim that as the provisions of Canon Law state that an Order becomes extinct 100 years after the death of its last member and the last member died in 1857, the Order formally became extinct in 1957.
Of course, what has been mentioned above is the story of the “renegade” Lazarites in France, under the Commandery of Boigny.
In 1572, Pope Gregory XIII had united the Sicilian branch to the Crown of Savoy. The reigning head of the House, Philibert III, decided to unite this order with his House’s existing Order of St. Maurice (founded in 1434). Henceforth, the name of the united order became the Order of Sts. Maurice and Lazarus. This Order is still awarded today as a dynastic Order by the House of Savoy.
Insignia of a Commander of the Order of Sts. Maurice and Lazarus
Critics who assert that the French Order of Lazarus ceased to exist practically in 1857 and formally in 1957, acknowledge that the Savoian Order is the legitimate successor of the ancient Order of St. Lazarus.
To continue, though, with the modern Order of St. Lazarus, let’s examine some more information.
In the 1830s, it is claimed that since the Order no longer had a protector, a new one was sought in the Melchite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch (not to be confused with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch).
It is said that in 1841, the Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Maximos III accepted for himself and his successors to be the Spiritual Protector of the Order.
Though critics question this original acceptance, subsequent Patriarchs have acknowledged this role of theirs in published statements. Personally, I am willing to accept the claim that the OSLJ is under the Spiritual Protection of the Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch.
However, now we reach the crux of the issue with the OSLJ.
As with all Orders of Knighthood, one must determine whether a valid fons honorum is covering the Order. In other words, who is the Temporal Protector of the Order?
Catholic Orders have the Pope as the fons honorum, others have either reigning or previously reigning heads of state. For example, the Most Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem is under the currently reigning monarch of the UK, HM Queen Elizabeth II. Another example is the Order of Sts. Maurice and Lazarus that is under the previously reigning House of Savoy. Both completely valid and unquestionably valid Orders.
However, who is the fons honorum for the OSLJ?
The Melchite Greek Patriarch is in communion with the Pope and thus under the latter’s jurisdiction and subordination. Additionally, Patriarchs (both Catholic and Orthodox) have never acted or considered as sovereigns nor did they ever have temporal powers. At most, during the Ottoman occupation, they had some civil powers over their flock but, it was equivalent to a ministerial position.
It is my opinion that the modern OSLJ is indeed lacking a valid fons honorum to claim nobiliary status. At most, I would consider it a church award given by the Greek Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch.
Having said that, let’s examine the Order as it is today beyond the claim to nobility.
The Order counts amongst its knights members of ancient nobiliary houses of Europe, including Grandees of Spain. Additionally, the Patron of the Order in Spain is none other than the Cardinal Primate of Spain, the Archbishop of Toledo.
Despite the criticism it has received, it has been accepted as a legitimate Order of Chivalry in several countries and its decorations are allowed to be displayed alongside those of other Orders and military awards.
The OSLJ truly believes in its hospitaller mission and has a very much respected humanitarian role. The Order’s work has been acknowledged by the European Union parliament, where funds were entrusted to the OSLJ to manage aid in Easter Europe. Also, perhaps ironically, Pope John Paul II welcomed knights of the OSLJ in their full regalia to his palace in Rome in recognition of their work in Poland. However, once again, the Pope did not extend his acknowledgment of the Order.
Finally, from what I have seen, the Order comports itself in the spirit of traditional chivalry and try to maintain its alleged roots. The knights of the Order try to be examples in their communities and to represent the OSLJ in the best possible way.
Insignia of an officer of the Order of St. Lazarus
To summarize my opinion, I don’t consider the OSLJ to either be the actual successor of the ancient Order nor does it have a fons honorum; but, I consider them to act in a more chivalrous way than some of those “legitimate” Orders. Therefore, I see it as complete irony for those who claim to be true knights to treat the OSLJ in the most unchivalrous of behaviors.
The OSLJ deserves our respect, if nothing else, for its proven, hands-on humanitarian work.
Whether the Order of St. Lazarus truly is a “legitimate” Order of Chivalry or not, is up to you as this post only represents my own opinion.
Note: Images courtesy of Wikipedia and Morton & Eden Ltd.