Who was the chapel for?

The altar table with Maltese cross emblem at St Johns Jerusalem

The chapel, with its buttressed flint walls and three lancet windows is the only surviving structure of the monastery belonging to the military order of St John of Jerusalem.

Like other monastic sites, St John's Jerusalem would originally have included buildings for living accommodation, hospitals, workshops and agricultural buildings.

The 'commandry' was given to the Knight Hospitallers in 1199 to provide them with revenue to fund the Crusades. At the time of the dissolution, it was sold to Sir Maurice Denys. In 1943, Sir Stephen Tallents gave St John's Jerusalem to the National Trust.

 

Who were the Order of St John of Jerusalem?

Originally founded in 1070, they set up a hospital in Jerusalem to care for anyone who became ill in the 'Holy Land' during the Crusades. In 1113, the order was recognised as a religious order by the Pope and they also took on the role of defending Christians. As such, the Knights were involved in the violent battles during the Crusades of the 11th - 12th centuries, but they also had to do their duty in the hospitals.

By 1540, the order with 76 sites in England had become the greatest ecclesiastical landlord in England. But with the supression of Catholicism by Henry VIII, the order was stripped of all its land and wealth in England. They survived on the continent and governed Malta from 1530 - 1798 until Napolean expelled them.

The modern Order of St John of England was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1888. They also created England's first public First Aid and ambulance transport service.

 

What's the symbol of the white cross?

The white cross (also known as the Maltese Cross) with 4 arms, and 8 points, was worn on the black monastic habits of the Hospitallers. The white represented purity, whilst the 4 arms represented the virtues:

  • carefulness 
  • justice
  • moderate behaviour
  • courage 

Originally the 8 points of the cross referred to the biblical Beatitudes from the book of Matthew, which gave people the ideals of how to lead their life. Today, the symbol is still used by St John's International who use the points to represent what it means to be a good First Aider:

  • observant
  • tactful
  • dextrous
  • explicit
  • discriminating
  • preserving
  • sympathetic