Museum of the Order of St John

Museum of the Order of St John The Museum of the Order of St John is a free museum on the site of the ten acre Priory established in Clerkenwell by the Knights Hospitaller in the 1140s.
Drop in and visit our Museum galleries on the ground floor of St John's Gate at any time during our opening hours. Join a guided tour on a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday for the chance to explore further, visiting the historic rooms upstairs at St John’s Gate as well as the Priory Church and crypt. Please visit our website for further details.

The Museum of the Order of St John tells a unique and fascinating story — the story of the Order of St John — from its origins in eleventh century Jerusalem, through to its role today with St John Ambulance and the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem. This story highlights how, from founding a hospital to care for sick pilgrims in eleventh century Jerusalem, St John has maintained its caring role to the present day, working on numerous humanitarian projects worldwide. The Museum occupies two sites in Clerkenwell: St John’s Gate, which dates from 1504; and the Priory Church of St John with its surviving Twelfth Century Crypt. You can find us on Twitter too! @StJohnsGate (

#OnThisDay in 1820, Florence Nightingale was born. In 1904, in recognition of a lifetime dedicated to the care of the si...

#OnThisDay in 1820, Florence Nightingale was born. In 1904, in recognition of a lifetime dedicated to the care of the sick, Florence Nightingale was invested into the Order of St John as a Dame of Grace, and in the Museum's collections at St John's Gate we have some fascinating objects that illustrate the Order's Florence Nightingale connection.

From 1853 to 1856, the Crimean War saw the allied forces of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia unite against the Russian Empire. Florence Nightingale is forever linked to the conflict, and her pioneering role in the provision of care for battlefield casualties transformed medical practice and had a profound impact on the treatment of the sick and injured.

Florence’s wealthy upper-middle class background should have dictated an existence of privilege, with the possible addition of the gentlest of charitable work. However, her conviction to a greater social purpose compelled Florence to pursue a professional path rather than the expected route of wife and mother. Florence’s interest in nursing was met with little enthusiasm from her family, although the financial cushion afforded her by her father provided her with the independence to pursue her nursing ambitions.

On 21st October 1854, Florence left Britain for the Crimea, with 38 trained volunteer women nurses. On reaching the field hospitals, Florence discovered chaotic medical practices and indifferent hygiene, leading to inevitable disease, infection and death. By campaigning for better resources, implementing professional practices, and enforcing such simple processes as repeated hand washing, Florence’s interventions caused the mortality rate of war casualties to plummet. Her formative experiences in the Crimea had a major influence on her campaigning work, and she became a great advocate for the improvement of sanitary conditions, both in hospitals and in the home.

On returning to Britain, Florence was to put her experience to further practical effect in establishing the Nightingale Training School, at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, creating a training course that would give professional stature to this vital nursing role. Florence continued to use her position of influence within the British establishment to force sweeping changes in the provision of nursing care, improving dramatically the medical provision for all and particularly for the most vulnerable.

In recognition of the profound human sacrifice of the Crimean forces, a monument was unveiled in Waterloo Place, London, in 1861, cast in bronze from the cannons captured at the Siege of Sevastopol. In 1914, the monument was enhanced further with two more sculptural additions – Secretary of War Sidney Herbert and Florence Nightingale. This model shown here is a replica cast, taken from the monumental sculpture by Arthur George Walker (1861–1939).

At the age of eighty-four, Florence Nightingale was invested into the Order of St John as a Dame of Grace. Her contribution to medical care and social reform embody the humanitarian values at the heart of St John, and her pioneering spirit perfectly aligns with the advances of the Victorian age in which the Venerable Order was founded. To this day a commemorative plaque is mounted in the Council Chamber of St John’s Gate, honouring her membership and her iconic place in the history of medicine. TF

Processional CrossSilver on oak core, photographed by Julian CalderEarly 16th centuryLDOSJ:659Bequest of Katherine, Lady...

Processional Cross

Silver on oak core, photographed by Julian Calder
Early 16th century
Bequest of Katherine, Lady Lechmere

With an oak core covered by thin plates of silver held in place with tiny silver tacks, this cross was used by the Order in England to lead ceremonial processions until the 1980s. When the original became too fragile, an exact replica was made. Nothing is known of the cross in the intervening years between its creation in France in the sixteenth century and its presentation to the Order almost four hundred years later. It is perhaps, like a number of other Museum treasures, an object that was removed from the Catholic Order through underhand means following the French Revolution in 1789, when the Order’s properties were requisitioned by the State. The cross was purchased in Paris by Sir Edmund Lechmere, who had so generously bought St John’s Gate for the fledgling Order in 1873. It was bequeathed in 1904 by Katherine, Lady Lechmere, a member of the Order in her own right who with her husband had done much to advance the Order’s charitable mission.

The fact that the cross is elaborately decorated on all sides indicates that it was designed to be processed and viewed from all angles, not just from the front. The planes of the cross are covered with silver panels that have been hammered into relief from the reverse side – an example of Renaissance repoussé workmanship that is repeated on each facet. The arms of the cross terminate in the form of a fleur-de-lys and at the end of each there is a quatrefoil depicting the respective emblems of the four Evangelists: Matthew, the man; Mark, the lion; Luke, the calf; and John, the eagle. As well as the eight-pointed cross of the Order, the arms of which radiate from Christ’s head, the front of the processional cross includes a small plate with the inscription INRI, in Latin: ESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDÆORVM, translated as Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.

Below Christ’s feet are the arms of Frère Pierre de Cluys, a French Knight of the Order who was Grand Prior of France from 1522 to 1525, and who presumably was associated with the object at that date. The arms were once enamelled although this decorative addition is now gone. The figure of Christ himself is earlier than the cross, his medieval expression of suffering being a subtle contrast to the Renaissance flourish that informs the decoration of the rest of the object.

In place of the Order’s eight-pointed cross on the reverse is a representation of the Agnus Dei – the image of the lamb and flag associated with Christ’s suffering for the sins of man, and with St John the Baptist, the Order’s patron saint who described Christ as the Lamb of God in the Gospel of St John the Evangelist. The crucifix – the depiction of Christ on the cross, in contrast to an unadorned cross – is a principal symbol within the Roman Catholic Church as a constant visual reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. For the Venerable Order with its Anglican foundation, the processional cross is an important liturgical link between the two denominations. TF

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St John Ambulance – Community Care in times of Crisis St John Ambulance saves lives. Its volunteers are always at the he...

St John Ambulance – Community Care in times of Crisis

St John Ambulance saves lives. Its volunteers are always at the heart of communities, never more so than in a national emergency. In the current crisis to date, 3,492 St John volunteers have stepped forward in every part of the country to support the NHS in its response to Covid 19, just as thousands of St John volunteers did throughout the course of the Second World War. The charity was founded in 1877 - 61 years before the NHS - to provide free healthcare to all who need it, and this principle still endures. For St John volunteers emergency response is what they’re trained for.

In commemorating VE Day, we can look back on the significance of St John in the War Effort, and at the continuing role of the charity in providing care to communities. Over the course of the Second World War, the global response by St John took in the care of prisoners-of war, displaced persons, wounded and missing, ambulance transport, and of course the training and provision of medical volunteers. Abroad, St John volunteers were among the first to enter the liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and St John Ambulance trained men and women were applying their life-saving skills in prisoner-of-war camps from Singapore to Germany.

‘They were superb, they tackled every job under the sun and what’s more they didn’t have to be told what to do. No job was too big, no job too dirty, no job too tedious for them to undertake...’

Lieutenant Colonel M. W. Gonin, Officer Commanding the 11th Light Field Ambulance, describing the St John Ambulance response at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, 1945.

Building on St John Ambulance’s important medical role in the First World War, by the outbreak of the Second World War the charity’s response was immediate. The Joint War Organisation was formed to unite St John and the Red Cross, with both healthcare charities working together to assist in the War Effort. In today’s Covid-19 healthcare emergency, as the Red Cross no longer recruits active first aiders, many former Red Cross volunteers are now a part of the St John Ambulance volunteer family, continuing the tradition of community care.

With no NHS until 1948, and stretched hospitals dealing with the casualties of war, St John’s community response on the home Front was critical in saving lives. Between 1938 and 1945, St John Ambulance trained more than 1.2 million people in first aid, over 3 million copies of the St John Ambulance First Aid book had been distributed, and over 200,000 St John Ambulance volunteers were working in support of the allies.

‘They responded magnificently, some came for permanent duty and are still here. Others came for relief work covering periods up to a month, paying their own fares and travelling expenses. They came from all parts of the country, even from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. Some had never bene to London before... they never failed to report to their posts and gave invaluable help, inspiring confidence even in the worst ordeals. I have found their courage, coolness and competence deserving of high praise.’

Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, speaking in 1941 on the efforts of St John Ambulance volunteers in responding to the Blitz.

The critical role that St John Ambulance plays in ensuring the health of the nation is never more important that in a crisis. And the current national emergency is proving once again how crucial St John Ambulance volunteers are - in the time, skills, and care they offer freely to the communities they serve. St John Ambulance volunteers are donating thousands of hours of their time in the fight against coronavirus, in many cases taking unpaid leave to do this. St John Ambulance is providing outreach support in communities across the UK that simply would not receive it otherwise. Never has the need and demand for St John Ambulance services been so great.

‘We cannot win this battle against the virus alone, and while our amazing NHS and social care staff are pulling out all the stops to treat more patients with coronavirus, and prepare for the surge in cases we know is coming, I am delighted that St John volunteers are standing alongside our army of workers.’

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England

Portrait of St UbaldescaUnknown artist, photographed by Julian Calder17th centuryOil on canvasLDOSJ:1730According to con...

Portrait of St Ubaldesca

Unknown artist, photographed by Julian Calder

17th century

Oil on canvas


According to contemporary witnesses, both men and women served in the Order’s first hospital in Jerusalem. After the fall of the holy city, a number of Hospitaller brothers and sisters retreated to Southern and Northern Europe where they founded religious communities, and there are accounts of English Sisters’ Houses as early as 1180. Hospitaller women have received little general study, and they are often represented in terms of holiness, while their male counterparts are portrayed militarily.

While joining holy orders was not a choice for some Hospitaller women, particularly those from noble backgrounds whose aristocratic or powerful families had forced them to join the Order for spiritual benefit, there is evidence that many women joined voluntarily simply because they wanted to. Belonging to a community of sisters could bring about a change in women’s lives in which they themselves might have found comfort – especially given that the Order could potentially be a more privileged and safe space to be, which provided an independent alternative to marriage.

Not all women had to be wealthy to become sisters, although this would have been an advantage. There is often evidence that women from all walks of life would be admitted to the Houses, not by virtue of their financial situation but rather their skills, which might have matched the practical needs of specific Houses. Those skills ranged from baking and cooking, to farming and to numeracy or literacy.

An Italian peasant girl, St Ubaldesca was the daughter of a baker born in approximately 1136. From an impoverished background and lacking a dowry, her marriage prospects were limited so at the age of fourteen she travelled to Pisa to devote her life to serving others. Living with the sisters of the House of St John, Ubaldesca assisted the nuns in their holy rituals, but did not take a direct part in nursing the sick, as this was considered to be inconsistent with the religious vows made on committing to a holy order.

It was common for young novices to be admitted to the Houses to be educated. There were also mature women, women who were widowed or seeking refuge from unfortunate circumstances, such as their families had perished or they given up babies born out of wedlock. Some women associates of the Order would even be admitted as partners in a married couple who were both members.

Ubaldesca died in 1205, and some time after 1268 she was canonised in recognition of her life devoted to charity, prayer and penitence. Among the miracles attributed to her, the most famous is the ability to turn the water in the well of the Church of the Santo Sepolcro, Pisa, into wine. Here, St Ubaldesca is depicted wearing the robes of the Hospitaller sisters, decorated with the white cross that continues to be the mark of the Order of St John. Her penitent expression alludes to a life spent begging for alms, while surviving on a diet of bread and water. TF

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The Rhodes MissalIlluminated manuscript on vellum, photographed by Julian CalderFrance, 1504LDOSJ:K100‘Un missale beliss...

The Rhodes Missal

Illuminated manuscript on vellum, photographed by Julian Calder

France, 1504


‘Un missale belissimo e miniato’, Giacomo Bosio (1544-1627)

A Catholic Order of Service dating from 1504, within its covers the Rhodes Missal include 108 pages, each handwritten in Latin and decorated with gilded and coloured illuminations. The pages are further enhanced with 28 hand-drawn illustrations charting the stories of the Gospels, and with musical scores of medieval religious chants. The Rhodes Missal is a unique object that exemplifies the religious devotion and artistic patronage of the Knights of the Order of St John, during their time on the island of Rhodes when their power and influence stretched across Europe.

The Rhodes Missal was commissioned by Charles Aleman de Rochechenard, a Knight of the Order of St John and Grand Prior of the Order’s Priory of St Gilles, in France. He presented the Missal to the Order’s then Grand Master, Brother Amaury d’Amboise, on 6th June 1504, when d’Amboise stopped in the French city of Arles on his journey to Rhodes, to command the Order’s recruits in their religious cause. The Missal was both a diplomatic gift and an important religious object, most likely used as a part of the Order’s liturgy.

When the Order retreated from Rhodes in 1522, following their defeat by the forces of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Ruler of the Ottoman Empire, the Knights took the Rhodes Missal with them. One of their most sacred treasures, the Missal travelled with the Knights on their journey across the Mediterranean, to their new home on the island of Malta, where they arrived in 1530.

The Knights of the Order fortified and embellished the capital, Valletta, expressing their piety in the commissioning of Baroque palaces, fine paintings and ornate silver, all for the glorification of God. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Order’s military role had diminished, leaving them vulnerable to new threats. And so, in 1798, Emperor Napoleon invaded their island home, forcing the Order to flee while their palaces and churches were looted by the French troops.

The Order had lost not only their home, but also their treasures. As an item of French Imperial booty, the Missal disappeared until, in 1929, it resurfaced in the commercial holdings of Leo S. Olschki, a publisher and antiquarian bookseller based in Florence. Offered first for sale to the Vatican in Rome, which declined – due reputedly to the Missal’s high price – the newly revived Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem was approached as an alternative potential buyer. The substantial sum demanded – £1500 – necessitated a significant fundraising effort. In a precursor to contemporary crowdfunding, the sum was reached through subscription by members of the Order, each pledging different amounts according to their means, until the total was reached.

Once purchased, the Rhodes Missal was brought to the Order’s historic London home, at St John’s Gate, where it has remained ever since. It is now on display for all to enjoy in the Museum galleries, the 500 year old vellum pages being turned on a regular basis by Museum staff, in order to allow visitors to enjoy each unique illustration. TF

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Museum Of The Order Of St John, St John's Gate, St John's Lane, Clerkenwell

Farringdon Station (Thameslink and Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines) is a 5-minute walk from the Museum. Buses 55, 153 and 243 stop very nearby.

Opening Hours

Monday 10:00 - 17:00
Tuesday 10:00 - 17:00
Wednesday 10:00 - 17:00
Thursday 10:00 - 17:00
Friday 10:00 - 17:00
Saturday 10:00 - 17:00


020 7324 4005


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A MEMORABLE DAY! The story of the 'American Cadet Trophy for Gallantry' will be told on the group "First Aid History Group' but this note is just to record a remarkable day's events that ended my 10 year quest for the cup. It was found in a safe in the basement at St John's Gate in a red bag with no description and no inventory number. Abi Cornick remembered the cup from descriptions I had given and as soon as she called me I arranged to go and see it. As well as photographing the trophy and transcribing all the inscriptions I bumped into Lisa Millington who once worked in the cadet department. I also met the museum front desk staff Jess who with Rachel write most of the Museum page almost daily entries that are so fascinating. I finally succumbed to purchasing the magnificent 'St John Treasures' book and finally made it to the ACFA Christmas lunch (ACFA was the last St John Ambulance Special Centre). A truly memorable day!
Nil Sine Labore.
Hermoso Museo de St John. Saludos afectuosos al Sr. Franco Nicoletti
I am very much interested to obtain this precious book. Kindly tell me in way I get to this book. Thanks
Good luck with today have fun.
Hiya I'm looking for some help please my nans furneral is today 3 October at north chapel landican 2pm, leaving from co op furneral home woodchurch road 1.30pm and we're looking for 6 volunteers from St John's ambulance brigade my nan was a officer from the Bebington and eastern brigade in the 1970s and early 80s and then did a furthure career in nursing but has always honenerd the st johns birgade. We would like an honour guard to escort her to her finaly resting place. Could anyone help please thank you our family have already contacted the official channels but told due to the lateness they wouldn't be able to help us and told us to ask for volunteers Mrs Irene murray 13 January 1945 to 16 September 2017 any donations will go to the St John's ambulance brigade thank you please share
As we observe Malaysia Day today, our thoughts and prayers are with those children and teachers who perished in the KERAMAT school fire , and those injured on the LONDON tube and first responders who assisted them. ST. JOHN AMBULANCE SARAWAK and THE SARAWAK CHESHIRE HOME join me in sending our deepest sympathy and condolences to the bereaved families in the school fire , and our best wishes to those injured on the London tube . Ang Lai Soon🌹 Founder/District Commissioner & Chairman & Commander St. John Ambulance Sarawak President Sarawak Cheshire Home
I'm so happy to have found your site. Despite frequent visits with my son who lives in England, we have not heard of your museum. This autumn I'm bringing my 94 year old mum for a visit to her native London. She was an ambulance driver there during World War 2 and over her 72 years living in the states she has shared with us many of her stories. We will definitely put your museum on our list of must sees.
IRREGULAR AND UNHEARD OF IN THE HISTORY OF ST. JOHN? Who (the appointed officers in kuala Lumpur) were responsible for the Interregnum between 2014 & 2015 in st john ambulance sarawak?. For disciplined uniform organization to disobey the rules of an act of parliament was something most serious. People expect senior officers should every time show perfect example & should not disgrace the organization. They did not seem to understand simple rules. How to lead if you cannot understand simple english? These officers must let the public know the reason why there was a vacuum for so many months?. Below is the New Straits Times (National Newspaper of Malaysia) comment one year ago.
down memory lane.. St. John Ambulance SARAWAK celebrated ST. JOHN'S DAY. HISTORY WAS MADE..THE FIRST OF ITS KIND ST. JOHN'S DAY CELEBRATION FOR CHRISTIAN MEMBERS IN MALAYSIA. Two Archbishops , a Catholic and an Anglican, officiated at two Inter- denominational SERVICES for Christian officers and members in Sarawak. (ST . JOHN AMBULANCE SARAWAK WAS FOUNDED AS A DISTRICT IN 1971. The four Districts were Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore . (note from administrator)