The Holy in the Hospital, 2

The medieval brethren of the Hospital were particularly devoted to relics of St John, to whom their Order was dedicated. The Hospitallers in the Holy Land had supposedly venerated a relic of St John’s arm before it was shipped to northern Europe in the early thirteenth century, where it became the focus of a major cult in the town of Groningen.

Illumination of the Beheading of St John


LDOSJ K100, f. 83r

According to the New Testament, St John had been executed by decapitation, as illustrated here in an illumination from the Rhodes Missal – a magnificent manuscript that is on permanent display in the Museum.

Cast of a seal of Hugh de Alneto, prior of England (left), and a Pilgrim badge (right)

Originally 1216 (left) and 1926 (right)

LDOSJ 3609 (left) and LDOSJ 432.6 (right)

The seal of Prior Hugh (left) defines the medieval Hospitallers in England as devotees of the head relic of St John, while the twentieth-century pilgrimage badge (right) demonstrates the legacy of this tradition for modern visitors to Jerusalem.

The holy city of Jerusalem continues to attract pilgrims of all faiths, including members of the modern Order of St John. In 1926 the Order’s traditions of Jerusalem pilgrimage were revived with a large-scale journey to the Holy Land. Participants wore badges depicting the head of St John to signal their involvement in this elaborate undertaking.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land remains of central importance to the modern Order, whose members continue to practise pilgrim rituals, visit holy sites and collect sacred souvenirs, much as their medieval predecessors did before them.

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