Torphichen Preceptory

Torphichen Church & Torphichen Preceptory and the Knights of St John:..[Torphichen]

In the 5th century St Ninian is remembered for bringing the Christian faith to West Lothian Scotland and building there a small chapel in the village of Torphichen.

Seven centuries later the Knights of St. John established their Scottish headquarters (preceptory) at Torphichen and incorporated the St Ninian's chapel into their newly constructed (Norman) church, 1168. As a result the Knights dedicated the building to their founder, John the Baptist, while dedicating one of its side altars to St Ninian. A hospital existed on the upper floor of the transept.

[Little remains now of the original Preceptory, save for the transept, chancel and tower. The present church was built in 1756 and occupies the site of the old nave, the foundations of which are preserved.]

It was around 1124 that the Order of St John had been granted the preceptory at Torphichen by Scotland's King David I. His successor, King Malcolm IV later granted the Order a house in every burgh in the kingdom. These houses all remained dependencies of Torphichen, as no other preceptory ever developed in Scotland. By contrast many preceptories evolved in England. The Preceptory was led by a Preceptor who presided over the community, which included knights, chaplains, and serving brothers.

The Order of St John being a European organisation was divided into distinctive linguistic/geographical regions. As a result the British Isles was collectively termed the 'Langue of England', and was then divided into two parts- (i) The Priory of Ireland, with its centre at Kilmainham, and (ii) the Priory of England (which included Scotland) with its centres at Clerkenwell (for England) and Torphichen (for Scotland).

With Scotland having separate monarchs and political allegiances over many centuries there were periods when Torphichen attained a modicum of independence from the Priory of England. This was particularly evident in the 1300s during the Schism in the Papacy, when the Scottish (along with the French) acknowledged Avignon, and the English continued to acknowledge Rome.

The advent of Protestantism and the Reformation saw the demise of the Knights of St John in the British Isles. The suppression of the Priory of England (excluding Scotland) began in England with Henry VIII in 1540 and by 1559 was completed by Elizabeth I. The Priory of Ireland was surrendered in 1540, although it was briefly held by the titular prior Oswald Massingberg between 1554-57 before being surrendered again (to Elizabeth I).

After 1540 there was a period when the Knights of St John retained only one preceptory in the whole of the British Isles, that of Torphichen. In 1547 Sir James Sandilands was the preceptor of Torphichen and prior of the Order of St John in Scotland. Nonetheless, by 1560 the Reformation in Scotland had taken its hold and Sir James Sandilands, in view of his increasingly isolated position, eventually gave up his Catholic faith (like his elder brother John, 8th feudal baron of Sandilands, who had earlier succumbed to the religious views of his friend John Knox). As a result the Order of St John nominally transferred Torphichen preceptory to his Catholic cousin. In reality, however, Sir James Sandilands surrendered Torphichen preceptory in 1564 to the Scottish Crown (Queen Mary Stuart) - to whom he was related - and received it back with the Scottish title of Lord Torphichen. As the 1st Lord had no male issue it is the descendant of his brother who now holds the title; his family and estate constituting the most direct historical link with the Order of St John in the British Isles.

[After being suppressed for over two hundred years the Langue of England was briefly resurrected, with official consent, between 1782-1808 and known as the 'Anglo-Bavarian Langue'. This involved Bavaria's participation, it not being part of the German Langue at that time. By the 19th century Britain had established a Protestant order of St John - renowned for the St John's Ambulance. This "Venerable Order" did not evolve from the original (Catholic) Order of St John, but was founded by Royal Charter in 1888. In more recent years (1993) a Grand Priory of England was re-established as part of the old (Catholic) Order of St John (the "Sovereign Military Order of St John of Jerusalem, Rhodes, & Malta). Although there exists no historical connection between the two orders, links have developed; notably in 1963 when they signed a joint declaration of recognition and cooperation.

The ecclesiastical seat of the Grand Priory of England is the Church of St John of Jerusalem in St John's Wood, London. The church is attached to a hospice (for the terminally ill) and the renowned Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth - a relationship that dates back to the end of the Crimean War. The hospital is regarded as the principal charity of the Order in Britain.]

Ref: "Torphichen & the Knights of St John (Knights of Malta) 1100s-2000 Scotland" ~ Talbot B.; and see "The Knights of Malta" ~ H Sire ~ Yale University P., 1994, for further references to the Knights of St John, Torphichen Preceptory, and the Lord(s) of Torphichen & family of Sandilands.