International Reunion and Chapter General 2015
From the USA and Canada to the Holy Land, from Norway and Sweden to Spain, members of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem gathered at the mediaeval walled city of Aigues-Mortes in France for the three-yearly international reunion and Chapter General.
The knights, dames, chaplains and their national leaders came together in this historical environment to reflect on their chivalric past, present and future. There were times for prayer, times for business meetings and times for sightseeing and relaxation together.
The Chapter General is the supreme governing body of the Order when it meets under the invocation of the Holy Spirit following a lawful convocation. On this occasion, its approval was required for the two important matters on its agenda. The first was a revision of the Constitutional Charter, the fundamental law of the Order that all members promise to observe. The second was the election of a royal prince as the new head of the worldwide Order, the 50th Grand Master.
The Chapter General assembled in the twelfth century priory church of Saint Michel de Grandmont and was opened by the Grand Capitular, who had convoked it with the constitutionally required six months’ notice. The prayers were led by Protestant and Catholic chaplains from France and Great Britain and the Holy Spirit was invoked in the traditional manner with the Gregorian chant ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’. The meeting was then conducted bilingually in French – the official language of the Order since its earliest times – and English, its administrative language since the last century.
The votes of eligible members present or submitted in writing via proxies were validated by the Constitutional Council. Notwithstanding the wide variety of ages, cultures and faith traditions represented, they were in almost unanimous agreement. The amendments, intended to strengthen the Constitutional Charter promulgated at the Prague Chapter General in 2006, were adopted. The revision, due firstly to the transfer of the magistral seat back to Jerusalem, included some changes reflecting practical needs of today and others restoring elements of the Order’s own tradition, together with improvements to the official translations. The revised document may be downloaded from this page in French or English.
Next, the Chapter General proceeded to its most solemn duty: the election of a new Grand Master to lead the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem internationally. The nominated candidate was HRH Prince Sixte-Henry de Bourbon-Parme, a knight involved in the Order’s European activities for over a decade before being appointed Grand Prior of France, then Grand Visitor, then Administrator General.
When the vote was counted, all electors present in the priory church were in favour. The validated postal votes were also found to be unanimously affirmative. Accordingly, it was the privilege of the Grand Secretary to declare the 50th Grand Master duly elected, provoking sustained applause. The Prince rose to accept the result with humility and humour and then took time to receive individually all present.
The new Grand Master was willing to remain the Titular Grand Prior of France, delegating to the current Prior of France the full authority of a national head of jurisdiction. His Royal Highness also accepted the title, proposed by the Grand Magistry and unused since the thirteenth century, of ‘Humilis Magister Domus Sancti Lazari in Ierusalem’. This underlines the restoration of the Holy City as the home of the Order and acknowledges the end of its exile in Boigny under the protection of the Royal House of France.
Aigues-Mortes was chosen for this event because it was from there that Saint Louis IX, King of France, set sail for the Holy Land in 1248, returning in 1254 with Reynald de Fleury, the 13th Grand Master and the last one until now to be installed in the Holy Land. (Saint Louis also procured for France the crown of thorns and other relics of Jesus, for which he built the magnificent Sainte-Chapelle in Paris that still houses them.) Aigues-Mortes was notably one of the eight safe havens granted to Protestants in France during the Reformation. With this history in mind, the Chapter General assembled with the principal purpose of electing a descendent of Saint Louis as Grand Master of the ecumenical Order and sending him back to the ancient and actual magistral seat in Jerusalem for his ceremonial installation.
The knights and dames gather for the inauguration of the 50th Grand Master on the site of the original St Lazarus leper hospice outside the walls of Jerusalem on 13 October, feastday of Blessed Gerard, the first Grand Master.