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History of Knights of Jerusalem with inductions (click here)


History of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Ordo Sancti Sepulchri - O.S.S.)

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre is a sovereign, Dynastic Order of Chivalry that recalls the values of Christian Chivalry and forms part of the historical heritage of religious-chivalric Orders. This especially applies to the Greek Orthodox Order of the Holy Sepulchre; the first Order of the Empire founded in 325 A.D. by Constantine the Great and is the oldest Chivalric Order in the world. Constantine (born 265 A.D., died 337 A.D.) chose for his capital, and, in 330 A.D. inaugurated it under the name of Constantinople (Constantine's city). He proclaimed Christianity the State religion in 325 A.D. Constantine's mother, St. Helena, traveled to the Holy Land in 326 A.D. and located many Biblical sites, including the founding of basilicas on the Mount of Olives and at Bethlehem.

After the collapse of the Empire in 1453, the Grand Dukes of Russia granted protection to the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and the Order of St. Catherine of Mount Sinai. This included the Orthodox Christians who militated to that Order since 1063. When, in 1472, Sofia Paleologina, niece of the last Emperor of - Constantine XI Paleologo - married Ivan the Great, Grand Duke of Russia, she brought as her dowry the claim to the throne of in the Rurikide Dynasty.

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre was reorganized in 1669 under Dimitri VII Dimitrevic, Grand Duke in exile of the Imperial House of Russia and descendant of Ivan. Dimitri VII reorganized the Order as a dynastic entity and he was recognized as Head of the Name and Arms of the Rurik Dynasty and head of the House of Moscow (not to be confused with the Romanov House).

The Order consolidated and flourished in various countries in East and West. In 1788, Duke Ercole III authorized the establishment of the Order in the Duchy of Modena, granting citizenship of the Duchy to the Head of the Imperial House of Moscow and de jure recognition to His Orders and cultural institutions.

The Order was confirmed under the rule of Saint Basil and assumed as one of its principal aims that assisting Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Places, recalling the ecumenical spirit of the "Edict of Milan" with which Constantine the Great had decreed that freedom of worship be guaranteed to the faithful of all religions, especially to Christians.

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre is a Sovereign Military Order in the full sense in that it has a sovereign at its head, and "military" in that it is active as distinct from those just conferring knighthoods. "Knight" is a loose term in common usage. But in the strict sense it applies only to those as defined above. A Knight is titled in different ways in various countries - Chevalier, Cavalieri, Graf, Don, Sir, etc. - and each has its own protocol.

The Order enjoys special privileges in some countries where it is recognized as a family Order, dynastic, patriarchal, ecumenical and non-national. Correctly, only a sovereign, or one specifically deputed him, may create a knight, a sovereign being defined as a king or queen or some princes, an emperor or empress, a grand dule or duchess and the pope. A very small number or Orders worldwide come under this category of Chivalric Orders, even though many claims are made.

The Order is very selective in its choice of Knights and Dames, admitting only practicing Christians of known high moral and civic standards. In fact, this is the first criterion for admission. The Order is not expansive for the sake of membership. As a result, there are only 1,500 or so Knights and Dames in a network of only 40 Priorities worldwide. Members are drawn from all ranks of society - members of nobility, civic leaders, high-church dignitaries and lesser ecclesiastics. In being honored by the Order, Knights and Dames are expected to reflect honor in their turn. The honor is not granted simply for a community deed or excellence in sport.

Knighthood comes generally in set grades - Knight Oblate, Knight, Knight Officer, Knight Commander Knight Grand Officer and Knight Grand Cross. This also applies to Dames.

Forms of address vary from country to country. Whereas in British Knighthoods, "Professor Sir William White" is correct protocol, in O.S.S., the term Chevalier comes first - "Chevalier Professor etc." followed by other letters following the name, in prescribed order, such as "Chevalier Dr. Bill Black, K.C., O.S.S., J.P., Ph.D., etc." Use of full stops between letters is optional. In all Orders Ecclesiastic, titles are written first, such as "Rev. Chevalier George Grey, K.O., O.S.S.", followed by academic degrees. Those of Oxford are placed in ascending order - B.A., M.Sc., D.Litt., etc., while most other universities the academic degrees are placed in descending order. Non-academic letters follow - "J.P." is from the Queen and should precede academic honors. In all instances, V.C. (Victoria Cross) and G.C. (George Cross) should precede all other letters, even though these do not carry a knighthood.

"Sir" and "Lady" are exclusively for British subjects knighted by the British Crown. A non-British subject may be knighted by the Crown and use the letters, but not "Sir" or "Lady".

Whereas in O.S.S., a Dame is knighted in her own right and holds the title for life, protocol varies with British "Ladies" who may carry the title in their own right. In such cases, the title is carried for life, or as the wife of a Knight, in which as it is for life so long as she does not remarry, when her status is taken from her husband. British protocol is more complex than this and it is desirable that one consults a reference such as Debrett's, which is quite comprehensive.