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The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is a Catholic chivalric order of Knighthood that traces its roots to Godfrey of Bouillon, principal leader of the First Crusade. According to reliable sources in the Vatican and Jerusalem, it began in historical reality as a mixed clerical and lay confraternity (association) of pilgrims which gradually grew around the most central of the Christian holy places in the Middle East, the Holy Sepulchre or the tomb of Jesus Christ.

The origins of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher have been disputed for centuries. In this examination of the history of what is today a major Catholic Order of Knighthood, under the direct protection of the Holy See, it has been my intention to separate fact from fantasy and outline the historical development of this great institution. It now has a world-wide mission to support the Holy Places, particularly in Jerusalem, and has approximately eighteen thousand members across the globe. [1]

Some sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century historians claimed that the Order was founded a few years after the death of Christ, a statement unsupported by any documentary evidence and which may be dismissed as mythology. Fantastic theories, such as the Order's foundation by the Apostle Saint James, or Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, should be given no more credence than the Japanese tradition that their Emperor is descended from the Sun God. A set of Statutes, the Statuta et leges ordinis equ. SSmi Sepulchri Dominici., apparently dated 1 January 1099 but containing references to French Kings not born until two hundred years later, were copied and published by Jacques de Villamont in 1613, but these were invented to add greater luster to its history. [2] The authenticity of these statutes was challenged soon after Villamont's work was published and there is no surviving Papal Bull confirming or approving them; there is little doubt that they were of much later date and designed to support the legitimacy of the Order's claim to an independent foundation.

Several historians of the Order have attributed the actual foundation of the Order to Godefroy, Duke of Bouillon, first Christian King of Jerusalem, after the liberation of Jerusalem in 1099. It may indeed have been possible and appropriate that some kind of "honor guard" for the Holy Sepulcher could have been established at that time, but there is no contemporary evidence of any kind to support this claim. Certainly a religious Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulcher under the Rule of Saint Augustine was founded early in the twelfth century, and this Order soon established itself across Europe and acquired great wealth. There are no contemporary documentary sources, however, which demonstrate that these Canons assumed a military function or that a group of military brothers dedicated specifically to the protection of the Holy Sepulcher was associated with them.