Current Pilgrimages
National Catholic Reporter
Diocese of Tulsa News

The History of the Order

Who founded the Order of the Holy Sepulchre? When was the Order founded? Should the honor go to Saint James the Less, called the Just, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, who could be considered a guardian and defender of the Tomb of Our Lord? Was the nucleus of the Knighthood in the association formed by Saint Helena to watch the Tomb by day and by night? Did Emperor Charlemagne found the Order?

Read The History of the Order (in PDF format)


A Brief History of The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is a major Catholic Order of Knighthood, under the direct protection of the Holy See, whose principal mission is to reinforce the practice of Christian life by its members, to sustain and assist the religious, spiritual, charitable and social works of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, and to conserve and propagate the Christian faith. The Order does not accept direct petitions for admission.  Usually, though not always,  candidates  are put forward by an existing  Member. They must be practicing Catholics of good character who are recommended by their local Ordinary, approved by the Order's Grand Magisterium in Rome  and, upon the issuance of written confirming appointment by the Vatican Secretary of State, admitted by way of formal Investiture conducted once a year. Admission presumes a lifetime commitment to the Order's apostolate.


The Holy Sepulchre Order is composed of approximately 24,000  men and women, about 10% of whom are ordained religious, divided among  52  Lieutenancies in Europe, North America, Latin America, Australia and the far east. Currently, the Grand Master, who is appointed directly by the Holy Father to lead and govern these Lieutenancies, is His Excellency Edwin Frederick Cardinal O'Brien. He  is assisted by a consultative body, the Grand Magisterium, whose task it is to identify and agree with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem which programs to be undertaken each year to provide for Christian institutions and communities in the Holy Land. Each individual Lieutenancy is internally structured along the lines of the international organization with a Lieutenant as head, officers serving as a consultative body and sections encompassing particular geographic areas  within the Lieutenancy's assigned jurisdiction.


The Order has a very long history with roots extending to the activities of early Christians and their pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  Pilgrimages to the Holy Land were a common if dangerous practice from shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus to throughout the Middle Ages. Numerous detailed commentaries have survived as evidence of this early Christian devotional. While there were many places the pious visited during their travels, the one most cherished was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, first constructed by Constantine the Great in the fourth century AD. It is said that a local tradition, begun long before the Crusades, provided for the bestowing of knighthood upon worthy men by the custodians of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was this tradition that served as the basis for the Order's existence and it remains today a central feature of its existence.


Following the capture of Jerusalem at the end of the First Crusade in 1099, it is believed the Order was formally constituted by Godfrey de Bouillon - the un crowned "King" of Jerusalem - as a military unit under the Canons who were responsible for guarding the Holy Sepulchre Church.  When control of the city was subsequently  lost the Canons were replaced by the Franciscan Friars Minor who were given Papal approval to continue the tradition of investing worthy men of noble character on pilgrimage . Formal records of these ennoblements have been kept since before 1336 AD. They attest to the quality of character and purpose of those who were recognized for their service to the Church and fellow Christians while on pilgrimage. Given this distinguished history, the Order is considered to be among the oldest of chivalric institutions, having been recognized by Papal Bull in 1113 AD.


The seat of the Order is Rome; specifically,  Palazzo della Rovere, the 15th century palace of Pope Julius II, immediately adjacent to the Vatican. It serves as the Order's international headquarters.  This Palace formerly was the residence of Domenico della Rovere, a Cardinal from the Piedmont, who belonged to the inner circle surrounding Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere. It is from these headquarters and surroundings that the good works of the Order are coordinated and monitored as a Public Association of faithful with a legal canonical and public personality, constituted by the Holy See under Canon Law 312, paragraph 1:1.