Notes on "Precis of History and Spirituality of the OSJ" Jacques-Youenn de Quelen


Jacques-Youenn de Quelen writes his book as a member of a French self-styled Order "The Regular Order of Saint John of the Holy Land, Knights Hospitaller". The book provides a brief history on the Order, its rules and spiritual reflection on the rule.
The reflection on the rule is deeply rooted in a firm Christian spirituality. Each member of this Order is left in no doubt that they are joining a real Christian institution.
However not all of the historical picture provided will stand up to academic scrutiny. The areas where myth has replace reality are examined on this Web page.



Born in 1946, Jacques Youenn de QUELEN has belonged to the Regular Order of St. John since 1989. Elected Prior of France OSJ in 1993, he is a member of the ANF (French Nobility Association) and of the VMEH (Visitors of the Sick in Hospitals). Married, a father of three children, having a master's degree in civil law, he is a firm manager by profession.

Jacques-Youenn de Quelen

D'Histoire et de Spiritualité
de l'OSJ.

Ordre Régulier de Saint Jean
Chevaliers Hospitaliers

Une Spiritualité en action

Jacques-Youenn de Quelen

of History and Spirituality
of the OSJ.

Regular Order of St John
Knights Hospitallers

A Spirituality into action


In the late 1950s an organisation emerged led by a Charles Louis Thourot-Pichel; "The American Grand Priory of The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta". Pichel had a reputation of allegedly selling false titles, and other criminal activities.

Earlier in the 20th Century semi-masonic organisations of "Knights" emerging out of the Orange Lodges (The Black Association) had set up in North America. Arthur T. Lamson led such a group called "The Knights of Malta", which registered itself as a Corporation in the State of Jersey in 1911. However by 1912 the group had become defunct, with the members reconciling with another group which they had left previously.

The incorporation of 1911, which had been gained by the "Knights of Malta" as led by Arthur T. Lamson had lain dormant, even though the group had ceased to exist. The archivist of the "Knights of Malta" Order, had been a Dr. Bullock who was consulted by Pichel. Dr. Bullock died, with the records held by Pichel. Armed with these records, Pichel developed a whole prehistory for a new group he founded or with which he was connected. Adding to the claim to have been founded in America in 1908, he improved on the Orange Order background by mimicking the foundation of the Paris group, complete with its Hereditary Commanders. The alleged founding fathers of Pichel's group had died long before the claims were made. Pichel had the additional benefit of being acquainted with the history of the genuine group of Russian Hereditary Commanders in Paris, written by Professor Baron Michael de Taube, a Russian exile in Paris.

In 1962, Pichel's "Order" split into two, with a Frenchman, Colonel Paul de Granier de Cassagnac, who had been the Lieutenant Grand Master of the Pichel group, leading his own "Order" as Grand Master. The exiled Yugoslavian King, Peter II became "Protector" to Cassagnac's Order 1962 - 1965, when he formed his own Order as Grand Master.
The Cassagnac "Order" continued, but in 1999 "The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller" modified its name to "The Regular Order of Saint John of the Holy Land, Knights Hospitaller" due to legal disputes  under French lawwith the Roman Catholic "Sovereign Military Order of Malta".


The whole story of Pichel's inventiveness was recorded by Pichel's closest associate for many years, Crolian Edelen de Burgh. In a letter addressed to Harrison Smith, the Historian to the King Peter Order in Malta, Mr Edelen, wrote on January 22, 1980;
"My problem with the history is that all seems to be false from 1908 to 1932 as published by Pichel. I know his Minutes are false. Dr Bulloch was never Grand Chancellor of the Order. He was the Archivist of the old Scottish-American Order of St John and kept these records at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When he was old and blind, in the early 1950's, Pichel went to him with a story that he was writing a history of the Knights of Malta and needed some records from the Archives. Dr Bulloch let him borrow whatever he fancied and then obligingly died while Pichel had the most important records. We took the material, twisted it around, took names of noblemen from the Times Index and created an Order stemming from the Grand Priory of Russia, all a hoax.... The Scottish-American Order went out of business in New York about 1909 following a suicide of the Grand Chancellor, as well as a scandal involving payment (or non-payment) of life insurance policies on the lives of members. Some members in New Jersey tried to save the situation by securing a charter as the "Knights of Malta" in Trenton in 1911. Their effort failed and by 1912 was abandoned. Then Pichel came along in the 1950's and claimed to be the duly elected officer of that Corporation to give his Order some evidence of antiquity and to substantiate the false Minutes".
- Archives OSJ World Headquarters, St Pauls Street Valetta.

The same confession was given by Edelen to a Sovereign Council meeting of one of the many King Peter Orders.
- "Combined Minutes Meetings of Sovereign and Little Councils April 10-14, 1981 New York Athletic Club."
Edelen's confession is given from page 18 onwards, and was brought about by a well researched account provided by Robert Formhalls, who had access to records of the Knights of St. John and Malta and the Royal Black Association of the Ancient, Exalted, Illustrious Religious and Military Order of the Knights of Malta, and who had published an account of Pichel's myths in 1978.
- Formhals, Robert W. Y. White Cross : story of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, with particular emphasis on the Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller since 1964 under Royal Charter of Peter II, King of Yugoslavia. Sanghals Publishers, Camarillo, California, USA, 1978.


Quelen's book contains just short of  200 pages of information (209 pages long). 52 pages (pp 15-67) are devoted to the history of the Order from its inception to around 1917. The information on these pages could be gleaned from other books. 127 pages (pp 75, 83-209) are devoted to the rule of the (self-styled) Order and a Christian spiritual exposition on that rule. In other words the majority of the book provides no real questions. The hints on how to live as a Christian using the OSJ rule is to be commended as a real challenge in following our Lord.

However pages 67-71 provide the classic myths woven by Pichel giving his "Order" an historic pedigree.

(1) Page 66 provides the opinion that the Roman Catholic Order (SMOM) was a re-invented Order, and that the true descent of the Order was via the Russian Grand Priories.
Pichel in his literature on the Order advanced the view that the last legitimate free election of a Grand Master of the Order was Emperor Paul I as the 70th Grand Master and that a separate Papal Order "of an analogous nature" had been created. This meant that the Russian Grand Priory remained the only legitimate survival of the Order, and therefore was the Order. Quelen's book follows this basic thesis.

This claim is in total ignorance of the position which the Russian Grand Priory had accepted during the years 1801-1809. Ignored was the previous acceptance by the Russian Grand Priories and the Russian Crown of;
Lieutenant Grand Master, Count Soltykoff 1799-1803, confirmed in his appointment by Alexander I;
Grand Master, Giovanni Battista Tommasi di Cortona 1803-1805, appointed by the Pope with the agreement of the Order's Sacred Council at St Petersburg;
Grand Master Elect, Bailiff Giuseppe Caracciolo di Sant Eramo 1805-1809 (By 1816 Caracciolo had given up his title of Grand Master Elect), Caracciolo was backed by the Russian Priories after he gained the majority of votes. The Russian Priories under pressure from Alexander then switched their backing in 1809, to;
Lieutenant Grand Master, Innico-Maria Guevara-Suardo 1805-1814 (appointed by Tommasi in 1805, confirmed in post by the Pope in 1807).
Thus the Russian Grand Priories and the Russian Crown had accepted the Grand Magistry as being held by the Roman Catholic Headquarters.

The OSJ of both Pichel and Quelen has re-invented the Order, complete with the office of Grand-Master, providing for a self image similar to that of the Roman Catholic Order, complete with the claim that it alone could be identified as the true surviving organisation to emerge from the events that followed the death of Emperor Paul I.

(2) page 68 has that Russian Hereditary Commanders set up an American Priory in 1908.
Hereditary Commanders did not set up an American Priory. There is no evidence to back up such a suggestion for the early 1900s in the USA. However in that period in the USA there were "Orders of St. John/Malta" with their historical pedigree in the Black Association of the Orange Lodges (set up to defend the ascendancy of the Protestants in Ireland).

(3) Page 69 provides that Grand Duke Alexander was elected Grand Master in the USA in 1913.
Apart from Minutes provided by Pichel, there is no other solid evidence. Pichel's minutes did not make any appearance until the late 1950s!.
Against this is the solid evidence that the Paris Group of Russian Hereditary Commanders under the leadership of Grand Duke Alexander acknowledged the Grand Magistry as being in Rome, when they made their approach for reconciliation in the period 1929-1932. This position accords with the historic position adopted by the Russian Grand Priory and Russian Crown. Grand Dule Alexander would not have agreed to have accepted the Grand Magistracy of Rome, nor made an appraoch, if he and the Hereditary Commanders believed the Grand Duke was the Grand Master! Sadly the reconciliation was refused on the ground that the members of the Russian Grand Priory were not Roman Catholics. Rome certainly did not cite any impediment such as the Grand Dule being a rival Grand Master - because no such claim existed in 1929-1932, or at any other time before 1956, when Pichel began his Order!
Thus Grand Duke Alexander was not a Grand Master of the Order of St. John in 1913. However he was Grand Prior of the Paris Group of Hereditary Commanders from 1928 until his death in 1933. Also to be noted is that in the 1960s the Paris Group repudiated Pichel's claims - this is on record in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta Archives in Rome.

(4) Page 69 also cites a Constitution of 1912.
Although dated to 1912, there is no evidence to support this date. The Constitution is alleged to have been typed on a 1942 typewriter in Schickshinny circa mid-late 1950s as part of the invention of a pre-history. The internal evidence does not take into account Orthodoxy, which a Constitution inspired by Russian Orthodox believers would.

(5) On page 70 Leonid Ignatieff is given as an Hereditary Commander.
Whilst Count Leonid Ignatieff was a member of the de Cassagnac's Order, there is no evidence that he was a Hereditary Commander. His surname does not appear in the Annales Historiques de l'Ordre St Jean de Jérusalem à Saint - Petersbourg 1799 and 1800 listing the Commanders of Family, or in any subsequent Ukases between 1799 and 1810 creating further Hereditary Commanders. To support any notion that he was a Hereditary Commander, will require evidence of inheriting such title, via a female of the family, due to an extinguished male line. No such evidence exists.

(6) Pages 31`& 77 cite a Danish Order as founded by Russian Hereditary Commanders in 1934.
Only scant information survives about the origins of the Den Danske Maltesorden. The founder was Colonel Paul Mikhailovitch Bermondt, who was a White Russian adventurer who sought under the German/Polish General Rüdiger von der Goltz to create a German controlled Latvia and to restore a Russia Czar in the Baltic Provinces, in 1919. Defeated he fled to Denmark. He adopted his maternal uncle's name and rank, to become Prince, or Count, Colonel Paul Mikhailovitch Avaloff . In Denmark circa 1920, Bermondt set up the "Sovereign Imperial Russian Chivalric Order of Malta" (Souveraner kaiserliche-russischer Malteser-ritter-orden).
It is alleged that Bermondt acquired the patronage of King Alexander of Yugoslavia. By name, Bermondt's Order lay claim in part to the Russian tradition. However, neither Bermondt, nor his maternal uncle (Avaloff), were Hereditary Commanders of, or had been previously connected to, the Russian Grand Priory. Bermondt's creation was simply of analogous nature. Also there is no evidence of contact between Bermondt's group in 1928 or afterwards, with the Russian Grand Priory following the resumption of its activities in exile in Paris. Sometime in the mid 1930s, Bermondt had sought to gain the support of Grand Duke Cyril, but this was refused. There is no evidence that thereafter any support or patronage was given by members of the Romanov family to Bermondt’s Order. At some stage in the inter-war period, Bermondt and his Order, moved to Germany, where it was suppressed by the Nazis.

In 1950 a refutation to the claims of Bermondt's Order was given jointly by the brother to the successor to the Russian Throne, and by a legal expert in Russian Law. Grand Duke Andrew and Baron Michel de Taube repudiated any claim of the Bermondt Order via the patronage of King Alexander of Yugoslavia to be a "so-called" restoration of the Russian Grand Priory as being "null and void in the legal context".

On the 31 August 1934, in Copenhagen a private non-political Christian organisation was created claiming an Imperial Russian foundation via the Bermondt Order called the "Den Danske Maltesorden" From this venture, on the 24th June 1946, one of the members - Mr. Grundall Sjallung founded the Grand Priory of the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem in Denmark. In 1973, the membership of the original group founded in 1934, was reconciled with Sjallung's group under the name "Sovereign Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem of Denmark". For a brief period the "Grand Chancellor" of this group was HRH Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark. The group today is known as the "Den Danske Johanniterorden". A further schism occurred in Den Danske Maltesorden in 1982, when about half the membership seceded and joined the Sjallung's united 'Order' of 1973. This group no longer claim the Russian "legend", but claim to be a 1934 revived foundation of the ancient Order of Denmark.

In 1948 a Danish Architect - Charles P Christensen formed his own Order of St John - a schismatic element of the 1934 foundation. In 1951 Christensen obtained a decree issued in Leipzig, Germany from "The Sovereign Russian Imperial Order of Knights of Malta", which was signed by Max Schiffel von Frauenstein who had been a member of the Schismatic Order created in 1946. In that year the Grand Master of the Sovereign Russian Imperial Order of Knights of Malta was given as Prince Paul Avalov-Bermondt. Thus Christensen's group inherited the mantle of the original group founded by Bermondt. The 1948 Order continued with the name and mantle of the "Den Danske Maltesorden" - The Danish Order of Malta. In 1967, the Order joined forces with Cassagnac's French Order. After Christensen's death in 1963 Carl Wilhelm Lehman became Prior until 1969, followed by Poul Hall Jensen to 1990, then Ove Petersen until 1994, Johan A. Johansen until 1996. The present Prior is David K Svarre. Claimed by the group, as the first Prior in 1934 was Poul von Reitzel, followed by Charles P Christensen in 1939.

With such a complex and interwoven history, both a Russian foundation of post 1917 (via the Bermondt foundation of 1920), and the 1934 foundation are taken as the origins of Den Danske Maltesorden. What is certain in all of this is that the Danish Order Quelen cites was not founded by Russian Hereditary Commanders.


The Charitable endeavors undertaken by the "Regular OSJ" are to be commended. More such work is needed in the world and not less. Also to be admired is the sincere and profound spirituality espoused in the book - providing challenging reading for any Christian. Sadly the reliance upon myth to make good historical gaps and uncertainties detracts

The Reverend Michael Foster. SSC. MIWO. MIC. Cert Theol Oxon.

#Formhals, Robert W. Y. White Cross : story of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, with particular emphasis on the Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller since 1964 under Royal Charter of Peter II, King of Yugoslavia. Sanghals Publishers, Camarillo, California, USA, 1978.
#Brett-Crowther M.Sc., Ph.D., D.I.C. S.Th. , Dr. Michael Richard. Orders of Chivalry under the Aegis of the Church. Lambeth Diploma of Student in Theology (S.Th.) Thesis, 1st December 1990.
#OSJ Sovereign Council Minutes 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1987, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998.


The publication is electronic and paper on Ordering a copy is somewhat complicated especially if you do not read French!!!
A. You have to register with the Web Site - contact details etc.
B. You then click the "Library" tab at the top, go to the Spirituality/Esorteric section (menu left-hand side), then when finding Quelen's book (Precis d'history et de Spiritualite de l'osj) copies in French and English - click the basket.
It still took the editor of this Web Site ages after that to figure what to click - but got there in the end. A paper copy is 100 franks with delivery. About £5-00. The .pdf format is half the price. For the website click ; - or to make ordering the book very simple and telephone an order on 0033 1 47 00 05 07

It is nice to know that the profits from the book go to the charitable works of the Order.

Amended 23rd April 2001.

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Order of St John, Knights Hospitaller.