One of Londonís hidden treasures re-opened on 3 November after a £3.7 million refurbishment. The Museum of the Order of St John tells the story of the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of Malta, from their foundation in 11th century Jerusalem to the charitable operations of the modern Order, best known through St John Ambulance and the famous Eye Hospital in Jerusalem. Mivan was the main contractor on the project.
Housed in the Tudor entrance Gate of the original Priory, the Museum was first established in the 19th century, when the newly re-formed Venerable Order of St John purchased the building to use as their headquarters.
The rich collections of paintings, decorative arts, archives and personal records have now been redisplayed using the latest museum techniques. The result is a fascinating retelling of one of the most extraordinary stories in European history and of a charity that dates back almost 1,000 years. Among the highlights are a Flemish altarpiece that stood in the Priory church, a magnificent missal from the island of Rhodes, a cannon given to the Knights by Henry VIII, outstanding Maltese silver, and David Bomberg’s painting of the Jerusalem Hospital. The Gate itself is an exhibit – a fine Tudor structure built not long before the Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1542. It then became the office for the Master of the Revels, who licensed public entertainments in London; so it was here that some 26 of Shakespeare’s plays were cleared for performance. Later it was the childhood home of painter William Hogarth, whose father ran a coffee-house in the Gate, and after that it housed The Gentleman’s Magazine for which Dr Johnson worked. Eventually it became a pub, the Old Jerusalem Tavern, and it was this that the revived Order was able to buy and re-establish as their headquarters.
The only other surviving part of the original Priory is the church, which retains its magnificent 12th century crypt. This will be open to the public as part of the Museum project and alongside it is a new Learning Centre and a cloister garden where medicinal herbs grow, recalling the medical work of the Order across the centuries. Today the Venerable Order of St John is an order of chivalry of the British Crown with Her Majesty the Queen as its head and HRH the Duke of Gloucester as its Grand Prior. Because the Order was revived under Queen Victoria, it spread throughout the British Empire and continues to flourish under the Commonwealth. The Order is now a global organisation, working in 42 countries across Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia-Pacific, bringing First Aid training, ambulance services and medical support wherever they are needed. As Nelson Mandela (himself a Knight of the Order) has said:
“St John’s focus on primary health care, especially amongst the poorest of the poor, and its capacity to tap the most generous and caring human impulses, gives it a special place in our hearts”
This is the story told in the new galleries, which will surely come to be seen as one of the best and most popular of London’s smaller museums. The redevelopment has cost £3.7 million and was made possible by major grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wellcome Trust, the Weston Foundation and through the generosity of numerous individuals.
Notes to Editors: Project Directors: Pamela Willis MA, Dr Alan Borg FSA CBE Project Designers: Metaphor Construction: Mivan Project Managers: Cultural Innovations Project architects: DIA Associates www.museumstjohn.org.uk Opening times: Monday to Saturday 10 – 5 pm. Tours of the historic buildings: Tues, Fri, Sat 11 am and 2.30 Please see website for events and activities.« Go Back