THE ORDER OF ST. LAZARUS


by Daniel Cogné

Associate member of the Académie internationale d'héraldique
In letters sent to me, some members of the Heraldry Society of Canada have protested against my comments on the Order of St. Lazarus in a review published in the March 1999 issue. My review recalled the battle engaged by Baron Hervé Pinoteau, Vice-President of the International Academy of Heraldry, against the pretensions of an organization which is, in his opinion, a conterfeit order of chivalry and an imposture.

One of the arguments brought forward by my correspondents to bolster the claim of authenticity of their 'order' is the importance of its hospitaller works throughout the world. Is it necessary to state that support given to charitable activities, as worthy as that may be, does not constitute in any way proof of the historical legitimacy of an order of chivalry. Should philanthropy be a criterion of legitimacy, then the Shriners or the Knights of Columbus could also raise the same pretensions.

My correspondents should be aware that an imposing number of historians consider that the hospitaller order founded in Palestine during the 11th century no longer exists. Are my correspondents aware that their 'order' appears on a list of fake orders of chivalry of the Italian Department of Foreign Affairs, of the Order of Malta and of the Vatican? Should they read the Osservatore Romano (1935, 1953 and 1970), they would learn that the legitimate Order of St. Lazarus has ceased to exist. In spite of what my correspondents have stated to me, the official position of the Holy See has not changed.

Are they not aware that in France, the 'Order' of St. Lazarus is forbidden to style itself as an order and that its members are obliged to describe themselves as a charitable organization? The French Republic considers any attempt to revive the Order of St. Lazarus as fraud punishable by law.

There is an abundant documentation on the matter which has been thoroughly reviewed in Europe for a long time. I can only suggest to my correspondents that they read the classic works devoted to the subject, those of Eugène Vignat or René Petiet as well as the works of numerous other historians (Zeininger de Borja, rnarques de Villarreal de Alava, several International Congresses of Genealogical and Heraldic sciences, etc.), which have determined, based on proofs positive that the Order of St. Lazarus, whose last authentic promotion was held in 1788, is no longer in existence. As the Duke de Doudeauville, one of King Charles X's ministers, wrote on 3 March 1825: "The Order of St. Lazarus is considered to be an Order that is not conferred since 1788, and that it is even allowed to disappear."

Were my correspondents to read Études sur les ordres de chevalerie du roi de France, by Baron Hervé Pinoteau (Paris: Le Léopard d'or, 1995), they would discover an unequivocal condemnation of the modem "Order of St Lazarus". The author has even published a text of Louis XV, dated 15 June 1757, by which the King abolishes the St. Lazarus hereditary commanderies, which makes problematic at best their revival in the 20th century! Those who have access to the internet can also consult two excellent summaries: Guy Stair Sainty's (www.ChivalricOrders.org) and François Velde's (www.heraldica.org) web sites. They will discover the incredible story of a phony order of chivalry concocted between 1910-1940 by right-wing con-artists.

Social historians in democratic societies at the end of the 20th century can only be stupified by the proliferation of phony orders of chivalry, quite in keeping with the brisk trade in fake titles of nobility which enrich a number of swindlers at the expense of the naive and the snobbish. In this respect, John Kennedy's editorial (Heraldry in Canada, September 1997) denouncing this unhealthy and immoral traffic in Canada is welcome.

These phenomena are revealing of a state of mind that goes well beyond the most noble forms of altruism or the most pathetic manifestations of snobbery. One's wish to appear as heir to a mythic past, even if it is often necessary to rearrange historical truth, is symptomatic of the malaise that afflicts postmodern societies. In the face of the erosion of traditional cultural values, chivalry appears to be both an anchoring reference as well as a lifeline, even if, in reality, one must be content with neo-medievalist trash.


(Reference: Heraldry in Canada/L'héraldique au Canada, June 1999


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