The Order of St John can trace it's roots, and indeed it's social conscience, back to the 11th century and the Knights Hospitaller or Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem. The Hospitallers probably arose as a group of individuals associated with an Amalfitan hospital in the Muristan district of Jerusalem, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and founded around 1023 to provide care for sick, poor or injured pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. Some scholars, however, consider that the Amalfitan order and hospital were different from Gerard Thom's order and its hospital. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, the organisation became a religious and military order under its own Papal charter, charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land. Following the conquest of the Holy Land by Islamic forces, the knights operated from Rhodes, over which they were sovereign, and later from Malta (as the Knights of Malta), where they administered a vassal state under the Spanish viceroy of Sicily. The Hospitallers were the smallest group ever to colonise parts of the Americas; at one point in the mid-17th century, they acquired four Caribbean islands, which they turned over to the French and Dutch in the 1660s. In 1823, the Council of the French Langues—a French state-backed and hosted faction of the Order of Malta (Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta)—sought to raise through private subscription sufficient money to restore a territorial base for the Order of Malta and aid the Greek War of Independence. This was to be achieved by issuing bonds in London to form a mercenary army of demobilized British soldiers using readily available, cheap war surplus. A deal transferring various islands to the Order of Malta, including Rhodes when captured, was struck with the Greek rebels, but, ultimately, the attempt to raise money failed.
Until the late 1830s, the British arm of the organisation had only considered itself to be a grand priory and langue of the Order of St John, having never officially been recognized as such by the established order. Dymoke sought to rectify this by seeking acknowledgement from the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Sovereign Military Order of Malta, but its then Lieutenant Grand Master, Philippe de Colloredo-Mansfeld, refused the request. In response to this rebuff, the British body declared itself to be the Sovereign Order of St John in the United Kingdom, under the title The Sovereign and Illustrious Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Anglia, thereby emphasising the order's independence and claim to direct and continuous succession from the Order of St John that was established in the 11th century. This new entity grew its membership over the ensuing three decades and, in 1861, the Duke of Manchester agreed to become its grand prior. Additionally, an associated national hospitaller organisation was formed with a corps of ambulances. In 1871, a new constitution brought about further changes to the order's name, offering the more modest Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in England and, five years later, Princess Alexandra was appointed a Lady of Justice, followed by her husband, Albert, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), as a Knight. Sir Edmund Lechmere purchased St John's Gate as the order's headquarters two years later; the property was initially leased from Lechmere before the order acquired the freehold in 1887. In 1877, the order established various St John Ambulance associations in major railway centres and mining districts, so that railway men and colliers could learn how to treat victims of accidents with first aid; in 1882, the Grand Priory founded a hospice and ophthalmic dispensary in Jerusalem (known today as the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group); and, by 1887, had established the St John Ambulance Brigade, which undertook practical and life-saving work.
The Museum is based in St. John's Gate, a 16th-century gatehouse in London, England that once formed the entrance to the Priory of Clerkenwell. This dates back to the 11th century and was once the English headquarters of the Order of St. John. Tours take visitors to the oldest surviving part of the medieval Priory, the Norman crypt, as well as the 16th century church. They then return to the Gate House, which after the Dissolution of the monasteries was put to many uses, with Shakespeare, Dr Johnson, Hogarth and Dickens all taking part in its story. The Gate is now beautifully decorated with heraldry, stained glass, gilding and carving to create glowing interiors, designed by John Oldrid Scott. Here visitors can see the fine furniture and painting collections. The collections of artifacts from the history of the Order of St John are extremely varied, covering all aspects of the history of the Order. There are archaeological finds, architectural fragments and social history material relating to the Priory site; seals and numismatics, including an important collection of Crusader coins; arms and armour, mainly European plate armour but also an example of Turkish Ottoman mail; drug jars, mortars and weights from the Hospitallers' pharmacy in Malta; decorative arts (portrait medals, ceramics, glass, silver, furniture, jewellery, insignia, textiles, ecclesiastical vestments) reflecting the tastes of the European aristocrats who joined the Order and became significant patrons of the arts. The painting collection includes religious art, particularly images of patron saint of the Order, St. John the Baptist, portraits of Grand Masters, Knights and clergy, sea and landscapes, depicting naval battles and views of Malta; prints and drawings include portraits of the Knights, topographical views and maps showing the famous fortifications on their island homes, as well as prints of the English Priory and the surrounding area of Clerkenwell. The main Museum galleries are fully accessible and are on one level however, the historic rooms on the upper floors are not accessible for wheelchair users. For access to the Church, wheelchair users are asked to call in advance of their visit so that we can ensure that a member of staff is available to facilitate access to all areas of the Church site except for the Crypt. There is a continuously screened virtual tour in the main Museum Galleries, which shows all of the historic rooms on the upper floors of the Museum additionally, you can explore the historic rooms online. Large print guides for each gallery are available. The staff are both engaging and extremely helpful to those with disabilities.
Location : St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell EC1M 4DA
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00.
Sunday (July to September): 10:00 to 17:00
Tours Tuesday, Friday, Saturday at 11:00 and 14:30
Tickets : Free.
Suggested Tour Donation £5.00
Tel: 020 7324 4005