The Order of the Holy Sepulchre originates in a Christian organisation, the Canons, established at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1099, immediately after the conquest of the City by the Crusaders. It has religious aims and the function of protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land. Different from other knightly Orders towards the end of the 13th century, members of the Order settled in a number of western European States where the history of each individual group was rich and well documented.
At the beginning of the 15th century the Supreme Pontiffs dealt with this complex reality by granting it the true form of a knightly Order.
In the mid-19th century the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre from various countries were reunited in a single body under the guidance of the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Pope Pius XII transferred the governance of the Order from Jerusalem to Rome in 1949, assigning from then on the title of Grand Master to Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. The Order is led by the Grand Master, assisted by the Governor General and the Grand Magisterium. The latter is composed of sixteen brethren chosen from the members of the countries in which the Order resides, governed by Lieutenancies heading the Sections and Delegations.
In 1996 Pope John Paul II granted the Order Vatican legal status with a legal seat in the Vatican State. Today it is a Public Association of faithful with a legal canonical and public personality, constituted by the Holy See under Canon Law 312, paragraph 1:1.
Over and above its historic connotations and its eventful progress in times gone by, the valuable and interesting aspects of the Order today lie in the role assigned to it, which it pursues within the sphere of the Catholic Church and through its administrative structure and its local organisations in various communities.
At present, the Order has around 28,000 active members. These are the Members who actually practise the life dedicated to service and charity that they promised to uphold when they were admitted to the Order.
It is established in 34 countries with 58 Lieutenancies as follows: 29 in Europe, 15 in North America and Canada, 5 in Latin America and 7 in Australia and the Far East, 1 in Russia and 1 in South Africa.
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre was represented by Officers of its hierarchy in the retinue of the Papal Legate at the Eucharistic Congress held in Sydney in 1928. It is known that certain prominent members of the Australian Catholic Laity were also invested as Knights and Dames of the Order at Masses in St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney upon that great occasion.
Members of this Order acted as a Guard of Honour to His Holiness Pope John Paul II at the final Mass celebrated at Perth in Western Australia, to complete that Pontiff's visit to Australia in 1986.
The first Australian Lieutenancy was established in Western Australia in 1985. Then followed NSW and Victoria in 1995, Queensland in 1997, the North Queensland Section in 2002 and finally, South Australia in 2003. There are over 350 members in Australia. In November 2011, the New Zealand Section was establised.
For a more detailed historical background visit Order's official website in the Links section.