This article is about the modern, monastic medical order of the Knights of Hope and its medieval predecessors, the various Knights Hospitaller.
The Sacred Medical Order of St. Christopher/Nevis, Knights of Hope (SMOKH), is a medical-religious order, traditionally of chivalric, medical and noble nature. It is a declared sovereign ecclesiastical state in the world with registered priories worldwide.
SMOKH claims continuity with the historical Knights Hospitaller, chivalric orders that were founded for medical charity, including the Knights of Lazarus, Knights of St. John, Knights of Santiago (St. James), and other lesser known orders. In terms of international law, it is an establishment of the 20th century, recognized by the Congress of Ecuador of 2006, and headquartered in Nevis. The order is led by the elected Grand Master, Lietenant Grand Master, and Grand Dame. The order venerates the Medical Servants of God as its patrons. While emulating the noble virtues of the extinguished medieval Orders of Chivalry bearing similar names, SMOCH projects itself according to the laws and statutes of the countries where it operates as fully registered, religious, educational, and chivalric institutions.
The headquarters of the Order of St. Christopher [SMOKH] had been located in Nevis from 2000. It has established diplomatic relations with several states, many unrecognized states, tribes, peoples, and NGO’s. It enters into treaties and issues its own passports, commissions healers, clergy, and auxillaries (priories). Its headquarters are buildings in Nevis hosting its main office, a medical teaching center, clinic, library, museum, estate of the Grand Master and Dame, and guest lodging.
The Order has over 1,000 Knights, Dames, Deacons, and auxiliary members. Many of these are professed religious ministers. In several countries, members are important providers of healing, medical services and training; and other missionary functions.
The original hospitaller missions were based on monastic medicine, alchemy, pharmacy, and nursing. It became the main mission and activity of this Order to preserve these teachings as they were the basis for the development of not only medical charity, nature cure, but also elements of the Red Cross, nursing, and modern medicine itself. What began as crusades for territory in the middle ages, morphed into crusades for health as plagues started ravenging Europe in the 14th century. Disease and oppression forced many to different lands, seeking new ways of life as colonizations. Wars ravaging Europe led to the development of the Red Cross, nursing as an instution, the geneva conventions, and the equal recognition of the Maltese cross as an emblem of neutrality. This is documented in the Order’s series of historical Volumes containing much of an untold history of medicine.
The Age of Exploration which effectively became the crusades of the Americas, resulted in mass migrations of people seeking a new life, religious and medical freedoms. When Ponce de Leon, Governor of Puerto Rico, learned of a ‘fountain of youth’ from a Taino healer of Boriken, his voyage to Florida would establish another new colony in the new world - St. Augustine, America’s first city. Further, the discoveries of extensive herbal medicines and new foods would radically transform the pharmacopeias and the world’s nutrition.
These crusades and colonizations resulted in a development of colonial medicine, a morphage of monastic and indigenous medicines that radically grew the materia medicas of Europe and the Americas. The Hospitaller legacy extended into the Americas, West and East Indies, with establishments of colonical hospitals, missionary settlements, nursing homes, and even leper colonies. With the advancements of medicine, the colonies would become important locations for such discoveries and control of yellow fever (Cuba), malaria (Algeria), and cholera (India).
In time, between colonial medicine, the stories of the ‘fountain of youth’ in the new world, new foods like chocolate, vanilla, and sugar cane being introduced in Europe, spices becoming plentiful, and continued religious suppression and wars in Europe, stirred mass migrations to the colonies. These extensive crusades led to a Crusade for health as colonial medicine was now morphing into nature cure and various hygienic and spa cultures. Hahnemann’s homeopathy would finally lead to abandonment of Galen’s bloodletting. Samuel Thomson of Massacheusetts started an herbal lifestyle crusade - Thomsonian medicine, adopting use of herbs from native american indians.
At the beginning of the 17th century, health care provisions for ships undertaking long voyages varied widely, with vessels often being poorly prepared to care for sick and wounded sailors. The East India Trading company, who had large numbers of ships sailing around the world, recognized this problem and were among the first English companies to take action to standardize medical care at sea. They did this by appointing John Woodall as "the first surgeon-general to the East India Company, on the recommendation of his patron Sir Thomas Smith, Governor of the Company. He was responsible for the selection of medicines includes herbs from the new world, surgeons, the supply of surgeons' chests to the East Indiamen, and for the treatment of injured workmen at the company's small dockside hospitals. He did much to improve the medical treatment for the colonies. Two of his greatest contributions to the history of sea surgery were the creation of the first English sea surgeon's handbook, The Surgions Mate, and the standardization of the medicine chests that each surgeon left port with on their way to sea. The book was written to support the chest and provided detailed descriptions of the various medicines Woodall suggested that a surgeon should take to sea with him.
John Wesley (1703 –1791) was an English cleric, theologian and evangelist who was a leader of a revival movement within the Church of England known as Methodism. The societies he founded became the dominant form of the independent Methodist movement that continues to this day. He became greatly concerned for the spiritual and physical health of the poor. Wesley wrote a book entitled Primitive Physick: Or, an Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases. He was deeply impressed with the few physicians who called for the prevention of disease through healthy living and who recommended time-honored, inexpensive methods of cure. His book extensively influenced the colonial Americas and he established his first colony in Savannah Georgia.
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1784–1841), a botanist and Transylvania University professor who had studied Native American use of medicinal plants, wrote and lectured extensively on herbal medicine, and advised patients and sold remedies by mail. Rafinesque developed eclectic medicine, referring to a new group physicians who employed whatever was found to be beneficial to their patients (eclectic being derived from the Greek word eklego, meaning "to choose from"). Effectively, eclectic medicine was the pinnacle of a centuries long development of colonial medicines.
The Reverend Sylvester Graham (1794 –1851) was an American Presbyterian minister and dietary reformer known for his emphasis on vegetarianism, the temperance movement, and eating whole-grain bread. His preaching inspired the graham flour, graham bread, and graham cracker products. Graham has been called the "Father of Vegetarianism" in America.
Sebastian Kneipp (1821–1897) was a Bavarian priest and one of the forefathers of the naturopathic medicine movement. He is most commonly associated with the "Kneipp Cure" form of hydrotherapy, the application of water through various methods, temperatures and pressures which he claimed to have therapeutic or healing effects, thus building several hospitals in Bad Wörishofen. Kneipp's approach to medicine was not independent of his Catholic faith. His focus on water and herbs stems from the idea that remedies are naturally provided by God. His emphasis on plain food, drink, and clothing comes from the theory that humans should live in accord with nature. Kneipp expanded the definition of health to include a more holistic view which included mental, social, and spiritual aspects. Toward the end of his life and after his death, various organizations were created to teach his methods.
In 1891, he founded Kneipp Bund, an organization that promotes water healing to this day. In America, Kneipp Societies were founded, which, under the influence of Benedict Lust, changed their name to Naturopatic Society of America. Today there are 600 organizations that are a part of Kneipp Worldwide and there are approximately 1000 members of the International Society of Kneipp Physicians. After his death, his treatments became part of mainstream medicine in Germany. Archduke Josef dedicated his medical atlas to Kneipp. Kneipp's likeness was featured on a postage stamp. His recipe for whole wheat bread, called Kneippbrød, is the most commonly eaten bread in Norway.
With this little known hospitaller, unique history covering many lands and unusual world circumstances, the exact status of the Orders in international law has naturally been the subject of debate. There are differing opinions as to whether a claim to sovereign status has or can be recognized, in spite of its extensive history, territories, occupations, and colonizations. The same can be said for many indigenous peoples, tribes, and peoples. The Orders maintain that they played extensive hospitaller-medical roles that enabled the Orders to survive to the end of the crusading era and beyond. Little known but well documented, the crusades morphed into colonizations after the Knights of Spain liberated Iberia and within a decade Columbus embarked on his first voyage of 1492. His main sails bore the Cross of the Knights of Christ, and the maps he used obtained from the school of Henry the Navigator, Grand Master of the Knights of Christ. Already, it is now known that the Knights Templar had already explored the northern Americas nearly one hundred years earlier.
The Knights of Santiago established the first hospital of the new world on Columbus’ isle of Hispaniola. Santiago de los Caballeros has historically been the capital and was an important strategic city in the name of Saint James of the Knights - the Hidalgos de la Isabela, a group of knights who had come from La Isabela city to stay in Santiago. The Hospital of St. Nicolas of Bari, a place of mercy built in 1503-1508 by order of Nicolas de Ovando, Spanish knight, and Governor of the Indies. They would in time build many hospitals in Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Colombia that would later become medical universities.
Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy (1584–1660) was a French Admiral and Bailiff Grand Cross of the Knights of St. John. He governed the island of Saint Christopher from 1639 to his death in 1660. On 1638 Poincy took up his commission as Lieutenant Governor of the Isles of America and Captain general of the French at St Christopher (St. Kitts today). He arrived wearing the regalia of the Knights of St John of Malta and soon dispensed with the authority of the French king, declaring "The people of St Kitts will have no other Governor than Poincy and will take no orders from the King of France."
Governor Poincy instructed his appointed Huguenot sailor Levasseur with sixty buccaneers, to drive the English out of Tortuga. The first settlor of Tortuga was also the first Governor of Nevis, Anthony Hilton (1628). Levasseur was successful, and on 6 November 1640 a treaty was drawn up between Poincy and Levasseur which claimed the island for the Knights, allowed religious toleration and trade between the two islands. In a short time, Tortuga under Hilton and Levasseur became the origin of the Brethren of the Coast, a loose coalition of pirates and privateers commonly known as buccaneers, issuing ‘letters of marque,’ being very active in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, the Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico.
By 1642 Poincy started building the Château de la Montagne on his estate called La Fontaine. This was an elaborate building site, credited as being one of the grandest ever constructed in the Americas, though today it is lost but a replica diarama is housed in the SMOKH museum on Nevis. The grounds of La Fontaine were heavily planted with exotic tropical plants as Poincy was also an agronomist built the first sugar cane mill in the West Indies. Governor Poincy was considered one of the West Indies most literate scholars, having the largest library in the West Indies. The Poinciana (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) was named in his honor, the name later becoming secondarily associated with the Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia). Thus, the Sacred Medical Order of St. Christopher, officially registered, honors our governor and his legacy, and has documented monastic and colonial medicine as an international, intagible cultural heritage.
We recognize Health Sovereignty as the exercise of sphere sovereignty by a Religious Group and/or Indigenous Peoples to provide, protect and promote health among its peoples, citizens, parishioners, clergy and members (communicants). We establish the fact that health care as well as spiritual care are equal and vital functions of the Church of Hope. Our central theme is why did the Church abandon health care among its peoples during the protestant reformation, and thus lost a domain of their sovereignty by the 20th century? We recognize and salute those countries as signatories of the World Health Organization of Alma Ata of 1978 – primary medical care for all by the 21st Century. We lament it did not happen as anticipated and we (Knights of Hope) offer an “alternative” – simple, inexpensive model with practical health care.