The Order of Ireland

Posted on March 8, 2017 in News by The Grand Priory of America

With the St. Patrick’s Day holiday upon us, the Rt. Rev. Archimandrite, Msgr. George Appleyard would like to share the following message with members and visitors of our website. For more from Msgr. Appleyard, please read the Daily Devotion for each day throughout Lent and this Easter season.

March is a month that goes green, not just because we use a little less energy with the longer days and somewhat milder weather, nor because Spring arrives near its end, but because we come to St. Patrick’s Day, when Americans of all stripes join their hearts with those who came here from the Emerald Isle.  It caused me to think about our Order and its presence there.  Certainly many of us remember the Chapter held there in hopes of healing the schism in our ranks, and of His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregory’s celebration of the Melkite Greek Liturgy in St. Ann’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin, and sung in part in the Irish tongue.  But what of the Order’s earlier presence in Ireland?  All my musings followed on the discovery of a marvelous little book, Leper Hospitals in Medieval Ireland, by Gerard A. Lee.  Wherever you find lepers, it seems to me, you will probably find Lazarus and his devotees.  And while my appetite was not completely satisfied by the book, at least I had a taste.

To begin with, something called leprosy was documented in Ireland from the earliest times. It is reported that St. Patrick baptized nine lepers (lobhair) who were healed of their disease within an hour, and that by 432 AD he had organized a leprosarium. There is an account of St. Patrick housing a leper (Irish lobhar) in his own house and cleaning and dressing his sores.  St. Brigid was said to have had contact with lepers who came to her monastery seeking relief.

Now there are many saints invoked for the healing or relief of leprosy, Saint Lazarus chief among them and his sister, Mary of Bethany, among them.  Early on, Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala became conflated, and so lazar-houses (i.e. leprosaria) were also known in Ireland and some other places as maudlin houses.

The problem in attempting to sift out the Knights of St. Lazarus from other chivalric and religious (i.e. monastic) Orders lies in the fluidity of the vocabulary employed.  For example, just as lazar house originally indicated a facility for lepers, as leprosy declined the term was applied to what we would call a “general hospital.”  And in instances when the term “hospitaller Order” was used, it is not clear if it was chivalric or monastic.  The Knights of St. John and those of the Temple are mentioned here and there, but so far there seems to be no overt mention of Lazarus in the primary sources. However, there is a possible indication in a reference to a St. Stephen’s Leper Hospital and Priory.  The Irish word martar means a martyr, and thus the connection with St. Stephen, the first martyr.  But martar was also used to denote a leper, and this association made St. Stephen one of the patron saints of those afflicted with the disease, and hence St. Stephen’s Leper Hospital, attested to by a document from 1277.  As reported by Lee, Denis O’Sullivan points out, “The name of the religious Order in charge of the sick at St. Stephen’s has not been handed down to us, but it and other similar institutions in and near the medieval city (of Cork) may well have been ministered by the Order of Knights of Lazarus.”   What makes it more probable that a chivalric Order was responsible for this hospital is the fact that several religious houses in Cork had been suppressed by law in 1542, but this establishment endured for another forty-five years beyond the suppression.  An Order of Knights would have the clout to continue when monastic communities were dispersed.

There is another site which suggests the presence of the Knights of St. Lazarus: Knocksaintlour (Hill of the Saint of the Lepers? St. Lazarus?) in Cashel.  The records indicate that in 1230, Sir David Latimer established a hospital for lepers to the north of the city walls because his daughter had contracted the disease.  R. H. Long claimed that “This lazar house, the ruins of which may still be seen, became the home of poor Miss Latimer, where, at her leisure, she learned with a vengeance to pity the poor leper, and as a sister of the Order of Lazarus, to make the best of her miserable state.”

Ireland is riddled with place names indicating the presence of knights, even though their order (if they belonged to one and were not “freelance”) is not specified. Examples of these names are derived from such phrases as cill na Ridire, “church of the knights;” and baile na Ridire, the “town of the knights” at Balrothery, north of Dublin. With the presence of the Knights of St. John and of the Temple in Ireland, it is certainly probable that Knights of Lazarus took their place there to minister to the unfortunate.  What others began, let us nurture, so that “the sower and the reaper may rejoice together.”  (John 4; 36)

The Order of St. Lazarus Seal