A Brief History
The historical origins of the Order are somewhat obscure, although according to
an undocumented tradition they are traced back to the First Crusade. In fact,
the first documentary evidence of an investiture of Knights referred to as "of
the Holy Sepulchre" dates to 1336. Since this first testament to the Order's
existence, that is, from the XIV century, the popes gradually and regularly
expressed their desire to juridically annex the organization to the Holy See.
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem has always benefited
from the protection of the Popes who, over the centuries, have reorganized it,
augmenting and enriching its privileges. Clement VI entrusted custody of the
Holy Sepulchre to the Franciscan friars in 1342, but that was still during an
era when Knights alone had the right to create other members of the Order.
Alexander VI declared himself the supreme moderator of the Order in 1496, and
delegated to the Franciscans the power to bestow a knighthood upon nobles and
gentlemen pilgrims on pilgrimage to the Holy Land (power of investiture).
Confirmation of this Franciscan privilege, either verbally or by papal Bull, was
renewed by Pope Leo X in 1516, by Benedict XIV in 1746, until the restoration of
the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem by Pius IX in 1847.
Thus the pontifical delegation was transferred to the Patriarch when, in 1868,
Pius IX issued Apostolic letters announcing the restoration of the Order. The
Order of Knights opened up with the appointment of the Dames of the Holy
Sepulcher thanks to Leo XIII, in 1888. Moreover, in 1907 Pius X decided that the
title of Grand Master of the Order would be reserved to the Pope himself.
In 1932 Pius XI approved the new Constitution and permitted Knights and Dames to
receive their investiture in their places of origin and not only in Jerusalem.
In 1940, Pius XII named a cardinal as Protector of the Order and centralized the
organization in Rome, as part of the Grand Magisterium, transferring the title
of Grand Master to Cardinal Canali. John XXIII approved the new Constitution
presented by Cardinal Tisserant in 1962.
With the renewal of the Second Vatican Council, a new Constitution was approved
by Paul VI in 1977. Following this, John Paul II made the Order a legal
canonical and public personality, constituted by the Holy See. Today the Order
seeks to garner the commitment of its members in local churches hopeful for
their sanctification. This is the essential and profound reason that motivated
the revision of the Constitution during the "Consulta" that took place in 2013.
The Order today
The Order’s aims are:
· To strengthen in its members the practice of Christian life, in absolute
fidelity to the Supreme Pontiff and according to the teachings of the Church,
observing as its foundation the principles of charity which make the Order a
fundamental means of assistance to the Holy Land;
· To sustain and aid the charitable, cultural and social works and institutions of
the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, particularly those of and in the Latin
Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with which the Order maintains traditional ties;
· To support the preservation and propagation of the Faith in those lands, and
promote interest in this work not only among Catholics scattered throughout the
world, who are united in charity by the symbol of the Order, but also among all
· To uphold the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is the only lay
institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the
needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and of all the activities and
initiatives to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The
contributions made by its members are therefore the Patriarchal institutions’
main source of funding.
b) Structure of the Order
The Order has a definite hierarchy. At the top is the Cardinal Grand
Master who is appointed directly by the Holy Father, to lead and govern the
Order. The Grand Master is assisted by a consultative body, the Grand
Magisterium, whose task is to identify and agree with the Latin Patriarchate of
Jerusalem the programmes and action to be undertaken each year to provide for
the Christian institutions and communities in the Holy Land, including the
operating methods and timescales.
The Presidency of the Grand Magisterium consists of the Governor General,
the Vice-Governors General and the Chancellor of the Order: this is the Order’s
The hierarchy then divides into two distinct parts:
ecclesiastic and lay. The first, headed by the Master of Ceremonies, is
responsible for the Order’s spiritual development; the second, headed by
the Governor General and the Chancellor, is responsible for managing the
The task of the ecclesiastical hierarchy is to define programmes and
events to be put in place to develop Members’ spirituality. The task of the lay
hierarchy is to carry out the Order’s social and charitable activities on behalf
of the Holy Land.
The Order is subdivided into Lieutenancies, which in turn are divided
into Sections. If appropriate, the Sections may be further divided into
The Lieutenant, Section Heads (Presidi in Italy and Sicily) and
Delegates (responsible for the Delegations) are accompanied by a parallel
ecclesiastical organisation consisting of Section and Delegation Priors.
All these roles are functional, involving administrative
responsibilities; they are not honorary titles. The term of office is four
years, which may be renewed, subject always to the holder carrying out his/her
tasks correctly and effectively.
Suitable candidates for each post are suggested by the immediate superior
and submitted to those in higher positions and the Grand Magisterium for final
The Order currently has 52 Lieutenancies: 24 in Europe, 15 in North
America and Canada, 5 in Latin America and 6 in Australia and the Far East.
At present, the number of active Members is around 23,000. These are the
Members who actually practise the life dedicated to service and charity which
they promised to uphold when they were admitted to the Order.
As already indicated, the Order is represented in almost every country in
the world where there is a large Catholic community and appropriate conditions
for activities that will allow it to achieve its objectives.
Together, and individually, each Lieutenancy, Section and Delegation
draws up a yearly programme of meetings and events aimed at strengthening the
spiritual growth of the Members as well as events to raise awareness of the
Order’s role and activities in their respective local communities.
The donations raised for the Holy Land are administered by the
Lieutenancies in accordance with the administrative and fiscal legislation of
their country of operation and each Lieutenancy maintains relevant accounts
which are reported to the Grand Magisterium. These accounts include the amount
of donations, the beneficiaries and the purpose for which they are allocated.
The work the Latin Patriarchate and the other Catholic institutions carry
out in favour of the Christians in the Holy Land thanks to the Order’s support
can be summarised as follows:
The especially difficult times following the second Intifada,
(which put a stop to work and economic activity in a very large part of the Holy
Land), caused many Christians to lose their jobs and prompted the Latin
Patriarchate, the Apostolic Nunciature and the other Catholic institutions to
engage in the distribution of social and humanitarian aid in an operation to
provide the families most in need with direct financial support. However,
charity in the form of direct subsidies – which some may view as “handouts” – is
not part of the Order’s normal operating methods. Handouts humiliate the people
obliged to accept them and have an adverse effect by encouraging the
beneficiaries to live on charity.
The Order’s policy has been, and still is, to help the Christians in the
Holy Land achieve educational and professional standards that will enable them
to play an active part in the society of their own country, at a level that will
give them equality with people of other faiths.
In the latter half of the 20th century, middle-class Christian families
leaving the Holy Land to seek a secure future abroad became a real exodus.
Today, the number of Christians in different areas of the Holy Land varies from
2% to 4% of the local population and these are very largely craft workers, small
tradesmen and those working in the tourist industry that has developed alongside
pilgrimages. Such very small minorities can only survive if their skills are
high enough to earn them the appreciation and esteem of the society in which
they live; and this can only be achieved thanks to better standards of education
Since the end of the 19th century, the Order has financed the
construction of 40 patriarchal schools in Israel, Palestine and Jordan and it
now has a commitment to fund their running costs. Today around 19,000 pupils and
students attend these schools, from nursery classes through elementary, middle
and upper school, as well as in a number of technical schools. On average, the
student breakdown is 60% Christian (Catholics, Orthodox, etc.) and 40% Muslim.
The Order’s involvement with education helps to deal with a very
important problem in the region: how to get people of different races and
religions used to living in peace and mutual respect. If these values are
encouraged from an early age they may be implanted in children’s minds,
otherwise there is no hope of doing it at a later stage, for in adolescence
young people are easy prey to extremist ideologies.
The running costs of the Patriarchate and its 68 parishes, the salaries
of the 900 or so teachers and other staff in the educational establishments, the
costs of the patriarchal seminary and the orphanages and clinics, as well as
those of the Patriarchate’s new enterprises and other ongoing projects
(including the construction of housing for young Christian families) are
enormous and rise continually, putting a heavy burden on our Order. Such costs
can only be sustained thanks to the generosity of the active Members of the
d) What it means to be a Member of the Order
Joining the Order means taking on a commitment for life. The commitment
to be a Witness to the Faith, to lead an exemplary Christian life of continuing
charity in support of the Christian communities in the Holy Land, to practise
the true charitable commitment of a Christian.
The purpose of joining the Order is to serve the Catholic Church and to
carry out acts of charity to make the operations to maintain the Christian
presence in the Holy Land possible. The purpose of joining the Order is not to
become a member of a prestigious organisation in order to boast of one’s status
or acquire personal benefits and advantages.
Usually, though not always, a candidate is put forward by an existing
Member of the Order. The Delegate and Section Head with jurisdiction over the
area in question will assess the candidate at an initial interview. If his/her
attributes are generally considered to meet requirements the candidate can begin
a period of training of no less than 12 months. If the candidate completes this
period successfully, he/she may apply for admission to the Order through the