You may have seen them at a special Mass, or perhaps a funeral – ladies dressed in black dresses and veils and men wearing black berets and white capes. Most often, their style of dress does prompt a second glance and a fleeting thought of who or what they might be.
They are members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, one of the oldest, and yet one of the least-known organizations within the Roman Catholic Church. They are a Roman Catholic chivalric order of Knighthood that traces its beginnings to the First Crusade. They are the chosen organization to guard the Holy Sepulchre, the sacred place where Christ was crucified and was buried.
In simple terms, their main objective today is to support and promote Christianity in the Holy Land, where today, Christians are a minority.
“It’s ironic that in one of the holiest cities in the world — where millions of people make pilgrimages to every year, to experience the places where Jesus lived and taught — is a country dominated by non-Christians,” said Henry Kinberger, a member of EOHSJ. “It is part of our mission to foster the practice of Christian life in the modern world and to preserve the faith and the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”
Membership carries with it certain spiritual and temporal responsibilities with the first being daily prayer for peace in the Holy Land. Praying the “Memorare” to Our Lady, Queen of Palestine is especially encouraged. The Blessed Virgin Mary, under this title, was officially declared patroness of the order in 1994, by order of the Apostolic See.
Another responsibility is working for the preservation and spread of the faith in the Holy Land by giving as generously as possible to the Order for the promotion and development of charitable Catholic works there and to support the missions of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
One of those missions is the building and support of 45 patriarchate schools, providing approximately 19,000 students an education based on Christian values. Churches, convents and seminaries have also been built and are supported by funds of the Order.
All members are encouraged, if possible, to make at least one pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In March, 2006, seven members of the local Order traveled to Israel as part of a larger pilgrimage group under the leadership of Rev. Bruce Miller and Rev. Dan O’Connor. While in Jerusalem the entire group was privileged to have a private meeting with the Latin Patriarch, Archbishop Michel Sabbah. The group presented him with a monetary donation to be used for the missions of the Patriarchate.
Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Order can contact Pierre Allemond, at 318-452-6442, for more information.
Among the ancient chivalric Order, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem occupies an extraordinary position, having been chosen to guard the most sacred spot in all Christendom – the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. The Order is at the same time one of the oldest and yet one of the least-know organizations within the Roman Catholic Church.
The EOHSJ can trace its origins to Godfrey de Bullion, a direct descendant of Charlemagne. During the First Crusade (1096-1099 AD) Godfrey gathered together a group of knights who were entrusted with the protection of the Holy Sepulchre, and in fact began building the Basilica that surrounds it to this day. For many years these knights, and those who came to join them, protected the Christian presence at the Holy Sepulchre, taking as their banner the red Jerusalem cross which symbolizes the five wounds of Our Lord, and the motto, “God Wills It.”
In 1113 Pope Paschal II officially recognized the Order’s existence and purpose, and in 1122 Pope Callistus II issued a decree establishing it as a lay religious community with the specific responsibilities of guarding the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and the city of Jerusalem in defense of Christianity against Muslim attack.
Down through the centuries, despite periods of dormancy, the EOHSJ has continued its existence and remained closely linked to the papacy. In fact, the Holy See acts as Protector of the Order and Cardinal Carlo Furno is the present Grand master. The seat of the Order is in Rome while the historical seat remains in Jerusalem where the latin patriarch resides. The Latin Patriarch carries the title of International Grand Prior.
In 1888 Pope Leo XIII permitted the Order to confer membership upon women as well as men, and today the terms Knights and Ladies are still used when referring to members of the order. Currently there is a worldwide membership of 22,000 Knights and Ladies in 32 countries.
In 1926, the Order was founded in the Untied States, where today it is made up of nine lieutenancies. The Southeastern Lieutenancy comprises the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina with a membersip of more than 1,500 Knights and Ladies, with 248 Clergy Knights.
For more information about the Order, go to www.holysepulchre.net