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The Russian Grand Priory.
In 1797 the Order of St John concluded a convention with Emperor Paul I of Russia, whereby a Russian Catholic Grand Priory was created absorbing the Polish Priory. Paul I was created 'Protector' of the Order. In the early months of 1798 a new Treaty had been prepared by the Order, in which a second Priory was to be created in Russia, a Russian Orthodox Grand Priory. The Treaty being agreed to, by both parties, was due to be ratified 1st June 1798, but events took over with the ejection of the Knights from Malta by Napoleon. The Treaty has been preserved in the National Library of Malta, Arch 2196 pages 87 to 105.
The majority of Knights took refuge in St Petersburg, where they elected Emperor Paul I as Grand Master. In November 1798 the second Priory was created by the Emperor, with membership extended to all non-Catholic Christians. Paul I was murdered in 1801 and at first his son, Emperor Alexander favoured the Priories, as his father had done, but in 1810, sequestrated the property and income from both the Russian priories.
No order was ever issued to suppress the Priories. Alexander needed the cash for his war chest, monies which his father had awarded from the Treasury in the first place. The Priories were certainly not suppressed, as some authors would like to think For example, a book on Orders of the Knights published in Brussels and Leipzig in 1848 (Livre des Ordres de Chevaliers, Brussels and Leipzig 1848) confirms the existence of the two Russian Priories with their hereditary commanderies, but acknowledges that their relationship with the Order at Rome was feeble.
Nicholas I, brother to Alexander succeeded to the Imperial throne in 1825. He restored the two chapels of the Orthodox and Catholics in the Palace of Malta. Court Almanacs continued to reveal the presence of Knights at Court. Some who were Catholic may have been of the Roman Catholic Order, but many were Orthodox and of the Russian Grand Priory. The relaxed attitude toward the Knights of Nicholas is documented in an essay written Baron F.I. Brunov in 1838, where a comment is provided by Emperor Nicholas I, indicating he understood his fathers ideas .
Under the following Emperors, Alexander II (1855-1881) Alexander III (1855-1881) and Nicholas II (1881-1917) lists of Knights of St. John continue in the Court Almanacs. In 1858 Sir Bernard Burke in his book on Orders of Knighthood lists the two Russian Priories as being under the Protection of the Emperor. Burke gained the details from the French heraldic reference work; Loumyer, J. F. Nicholas, Ordres de Chevalerie et Marques d'Honneur, Brussels 1844. The details of the Russian Priories are so precise, that the source could have only been the Russian Priories in St Petersburg. The Court Almanac for St Petersburg 1913-1914 list Knightly titles that are pure Russian in origin, demonstrating clearly that the Russian Priories had not been suppressed but continued. A respected author on the Order, Sir Harry Luke Registrar (of the Most Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem) credited the survival of the non-Catholic Grand Priory in Russia until 1917 in an article for the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (14th Edition 1966 page 905).
Whatever claims have been made about the suppression of the Russian Grand Priory by the authority of the Roman Catholic Order (the Sovereign Military Order of Malta), these are misplaced as the institution was created by Imperial authority, by a Emperor who was both Grand Master of the Order, and the Emperor of Russia. It was a Russian Order, not a Roman Catholic Order.
In other words, it was like the Lutheran JohanniterOrden which as a German Order was not amenable to suppression by the Roman Catholic Grand Master Jean L'Eveque de la Cassiere, although he sought to do so after 1577 when the Bailiwick was officially declared Protestant. The JohanniterOrden was suppressed, but in 1810, and by the Lutheran King of Prussia, Frederick William III. It was however restored in 1852, by King Frederick William IV, minus its property, and therefore not unlike the status of the Russian Commanderies, following the sequestration of their property in 1810/11.
The Russian Grand Priory in Exile.
The Russian Catholic Grand Priory had eventually died out, starved of its links with the Roman Catholic Order. The Russian Grand Priory continued in the exilic community in Paris after the 1917 Revolution. A meeting of Hereditary Commanders in Paris June 24th 1928 formally re-established the activities of the Priory.
Membership from this group provided a lineal descent to the Priory established by Emperor Paul I. Prince Paul Alexandrovitch Demidoff who was listed in the Almanach de St. Petersbourg 1913-1914 page 178 as "ancient officer du reg. des chevaliers gardes, commandant Hereditaire de l'Ordre de Malte" was one of the Hereditary Commanders who re-established the Russian Grand Priories activities in exile, thereby providing unquestionable proof of the continuous existence of those who were not members of the Catholic Order but, who claimed to be members of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
The creation of the Priory of Dacia in Denmark.
In 1938 some Danish Gentlemen wrote to Grand Duke Kirill, (or Cyril), asking to form a Danish branch of the Russian Grand Priory. Grand Duke Kirill handed the matter over to Grand Duke Andrei who had succeeded Grand Duke Alexander in 1933, as Protector and Grand Prior. In 1939 a dependent Priory was established in Denmark - the Priory of Dacia. The war years prevented any development of the Grand Priory, but in 1950, work continued on the development of the Dacia Priory.
On the 9th December 1953, the Hereditary Commanders held a reunion in Paris and drew up a Constitution for the Russian Grand Priory in exile. In February 1955, the exilic Grand Priory based in Paris was registered as a Foreign Association under French Law as "The Russian Grand Priory of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem".
The Priory of Dacia was declared to be;
"under the name of The Grand Priory of the North, in all respects be the legal successor of the Grand Priory of Russia." - Letter to the Dacia Priory from Baron Michael de Taube 8th June 1939.
This legal recognition of Dacia, was also echoed in the Constitution of 1953;
"The admission to the fold of Russian Grand Priory or taking under its protection of similar foreign associations as well as the recognition of their legal existence as autonomous branches of Russian Grand Priory, subjecting them to follow the same regulations as those that manage the election new members of the Priory, and under such or other special conditions that can be put on them."
Dacia was acknowledged by Grand Duke Andrei as their Protector as well as that to the Paris Group. In a letter to the Dacia Priory 17th November 1950, he writes;
"The Protectorship of the Russian Grand Priory of the Order of Malta, which I have taken over after the death of my cousin H.I.H. Grand Duke Alexander embraces naturally also the Danish Priory (Prioratus Daciae) even though this became an autonomous part of the Grand Priory of Russia created in summer 1939".
On the 12th December 1964, confirmation of Dacia's membership was given by the Secretary of the Union of Hereditary Commanders;
"Regarding the Priory of the Order called Dacia, which is in Denmark, and registered with the country's government, the council of the Union of the Order report to the assembly of Commanders and Knights, based upon the correspondence between the said Order's Priory and the Union of the Order's former senior council member Baron M. A. Taube (ref. Union's Archive No. 5 part 4), there can be no doubt that in the year 1950 the PROTECTOR of the Union of the Order H.I.H. Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovitch gave Baron M. A. Taube absolute authority to finalise this matter by incorporating Dacia in the Union of the Order according to § 9 of the Union's Rules."
The demise of the Paris Group.
After the Grand Prior, Grand Duke Andrei died in 1956, the leadership of the Grand Priory was taken over by Hereditary Commander Nicholas Tchirikoff. Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovitch, nephew to Grand Duke Andrei, and successor to the Russian Throne, took over as the Protector, but declined the title of 'Grand Prior' and with the HQ using the working title of;
"Union des Descendants des Commandeurs Héréditaires et Chevaliers du Grand Prieuré Russe de L'Ordre de St Jean de Jérusalem - Union of the Descendants of Hereditary Commanders and Knights of the Russian Grand Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem"
Nicholas Tchirikoff died in 1974, followed by the Secretary of the Paris Group, General Georges Serguéevitch Rticheff in 1975, leaving the group leaderless. Never-the less the membership continued, but without any effective direction, leaving the Priory of Dacia as the most effective part.
The Incorporation of the "Union" ended legally in 1975, and the Regulations under which the Union was registered (Foreign Association) were abolished, bringing a definite end to the legal existence, thus there was no dormancy. However one or two original members survived into the 21st Century, but not the legal corporation. The decrees allowing Foreign Associations in France were as follows; 12 April 1939, 1st June 1939, and 1st September 1939. These have all been repealed.
Organisations claiming to be a continuation of the Paris Union.
The whole issue concerning the difficulties of descendants to qualify as Hereditary Commanders will lie behind the Russian Commanders' decision to use the title of Union of Descendants of Hereditary Commanders & etc in 1958, placing the emphasis on descendants of the Hereditary Commanders. Many of the direct lines had died out with no qualifying candidates remaining. Also it was not be guaranteed that every Russian Noble who did qualify had an interest in joining the Union. However, their remains a class of persons, who whilst they fail to be direct heirs, never-the-less qualify as descendants.
Also in regard to the use of a working title, the group had been encouraged to moderate their claims by Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovitch (who was a Grand Cross of the Roman Catholic Order) and style themselves as an Association/Union. However on the various documents to appear from the Union - the term "Union-Order" was used.
This then brings additional problems, as many Russian Nobles can claim this qualification due to the intermarriage of Russian Nobles to those families which held ancestral commanderies.
Aside from the issue of the legitimacy of succession to the Paris Group which ended in 1975, in terms of individual claims of Russian Nobles, who are in some way related to the original holder of the Ancestral Commandery, and claim, or are nominated as "hereditary commanders", it is a case of "A Caucus Race and a Long Tale", from "Alice in Wonderland" - that "Everybody has won, and all must have prizes" !
Given this, in theory there could be dozens of Unions of Descendants & etc, with genuine Russian Nobles in membership, who can claim to be descendants of Hereditary Commanders. However this is not the same, as being the historic continuation of the Paris Group, which was the Russian Grand Priory in exile, as supported by both Grand Duke Kirill and Grand Duke Vladimir successors to the Russian Throne.
Various groups use various devices by which they seek to claim to be the "Russian Grand Priory", or "Union", such as the leadership of genuine Russian Princes, who are descendants of Hereditary Commanders, perhaps combined with the blessing of Russian Orthodox Bishops or Church. Again it has to be stated that this is not the same, as being the historic continuation of the Paris Group.
The continuation of the historic tradition.
The tradition has been maintained by the Priory of Dacia, (which was acknowledged as a legal part of the Union) and also by a number of descendants of the Hereditary Commanders, in conjunction with the Priory of Dacia.
Dacia's claim to be a true part of the Russian tradition is confirmed by the various legal papers deposited in the National Archives in Copenhagen - these can be examined now on the Internet, see Priorate Dacia af St. Johannes af Jerusalems Orden Arkiv nr: 10266. Jvf. RA. Priv. ark. c. litra P nr. 1006-1. Click on the letters A. to H. on the second and third pages to access the individual pages.
In 2005, the British Association, was admitted into fellowship with the Priory of Dacia, to allow the British Association to share in the inheritance of Dacia.
The raison d'être of the British Association.
The British Association was set up in 1993, by John Cilia La Corte, who led the Charity as Prior until 1997, when the leadership was continued by Sydney Fogarty, who like John was a gifted individual with immense experience of working with, and leading charities. In April 2005, Syd stepped down, and Alexandre Tissot Demidoff became the President of the Association. Alexandre is a descendant of the Demidoff family, which holds one of the Hereditary Commanderies, and was principally responsible for the creation of the continuation of the exilic Russian Grand Priory in Paris in 1928.
The overriding raison d'être of the British Association remains, as it has been ever since the Order's foundation in the 11th century, the defence of the Christian Faith and the alleviation of suffering and helping those most in need. The humanitarian principle was recognised by the Charity Commission when the Association was registered as a charitable institution on 2nd October 1995. During these initial years the Association's activities have consisted mainly in fund-raising exercises via its members, which have benefited such institutions as Mencap, Macmillan Cancer Relief Fund and the Seabrook Children's Centre, among others.
The Russian Grand Priory Association of the British Isles, however is an Association of Hospitallers, owing its very existence to the influence of that first hospital in Jerusalem. This Hospitaller tradition remains the ultimate aim to this day and, as a first step in maintaining this tradition, the Order is in the process of setting up a Charity to serve disadvantaged young people.
Updated 30th January 2006
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