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Dodgy ‘knighthood’ for a dodgy lady

An example of the ‘Lazarus bling’, more medals than you can shake a stick at.

From the blog of John Smeaton we read that the former Irish president (and genial enemy of all that is good and holy) Mary Robinson has received a ‘knighthood’. Last month she was invested as a Dame in the self-styled ‘Order of St. Lazarus’, a fake order of knighthood. The group claims links to the old Order of St. Lazarus of which the last remnants faded away in the 1780s.

The current ‘Order’ was founded as a fake order of knighthood in 1910 by the confidence trickster Jean-Joseph Moser, and has grown by perhaps surprising leaps and bounds in the past few decades, taking into account P. T. Barnum’s famous maxim about a sucker being born every minute. The group has split into various factions and it has become notorious for having members in its ranks who don more metal “bling” than rap stars or Soviet generals.

The so-called Order of St. Lazarus exists throughout Europe and the Spanish- and English-speaking countries abroad, including the United States. The French branch of St. Lazarus was forced by the Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honour to cease claiming to be an ‘order’, and members of the Order of Malta are forbidden from participating in St. Lazarus’s activities.

“The Order’s pretensions have been strongly condemned by the Holy See as aiming to replace ‘the legitimate forms of chivalric awards’,” according to Guy Stair Sainty, the acknowledged expert on these somewhat arcane affairs. Nonetheless, Guy points out that “supporters of Saint Lazarus include the heads of a handful of great noble families and, over the years, several leading Churchmen and Cardinals”.

“The Order of Saint Lazarus, although it is to be complimented for its considerable charitable efforts (notably in Germany), need not pretend to an historical continuity to which its claims, at the very least, are unsubstantiated,” Guy Stair Sainty concludes. “Were it to assume the character of a private association, founded in 1910, to emulate the traditions of the ancient crusader Order, it could deflect much of the hostility it has attracted… It would be much more successful and be more readily welcomed into the wider community of international humanitarian bodies, however, if it was to permit an honest appraisal of its origins.”

This post was published on Monday, October 25th, 2010 7:00 pm. It has been categorised under Ireland Politics and been tagged under , .
L Gaylord Clark
26 Oct 2010 5:38 am

I am surprised to find sloppy writing on this of all sites: “founded in 1910 … as a fake order of knighthood”? Think about it.

Benedict Ambrose
26 Oct 2010 6:25 am

Perhaps Guy Sainty’s advice should result in the current organisation self-mortifying and re-emerging anew – just like, um, Lazarus. “For by now [it] stinketh” may be too strong comment, but re-founding the order as Sainty suggests might allow a for a wash and brush-up.

I’m not holding my breath, of course.

Michael Brabazon
29 Oct 2010 7:20 am

Interesting topic you have drawn attention to here Andrew. I count among my friends some members of the Irish Association of the SMOM, and I remember mention being made of the fact that a number of people ‘who should have known better’ (as it was said to me) were taken in by the St. Lazarus nonsense.

An interesting aside to this is how the St. Lazarus lot were in turn infiltrated and effectively subsumed by the soi-disant MacCarthy Mór and his supporters in the Niadh Nask con.

I would be fascinated to read your take on this.

Baron v Hetterscheidt
30 Oct 2010 3:27 pm

I have known a number of men in my time who were knights both of the SMOM and of St Lazarus. They were without exception men of the oldest and proudest nobility. They also liked gongs, or, as the young call it these days, “bling”. They were grand enough that no one dared to question their blithe loyalties too closely.
Given that St Lazarus was itself a con from the beginning, is it any surprise that one of the greatest conmen of all time was able to seduce into his own bogus order so many of its most active Irish members? I knew many of them too – rest assured, they knew that both “orders” were inauthentic; they just didn’t care.

Michael Brabazon
1 Nov 2010 7:04 am

Dear Freiherr v. Hettersheidt,

Your comment is most interesting. I do not know if you and I share some of the same acquaintances in the Irish Association of the SMOM. I would however concur with your assessment that “they just didn’t care”, though I would add that simple ignorance on the part of some was also the reason for the pantomime rush to join the Niadh Nask. The St. Lazarus lot were ironically allowed use the crypt of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin for their meetings, the Church of Ireland apparently having a greater tolerance for the absurd than the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, this whole area is one of muddied and treacherous waters in the IASMOM – “oldest and proudest nobility” (or the lack thereof) is a particular sorepoint with some.

Baron v Hetterscheidt
1 Nov 2010 11:17 am

I won’t mention names (you might well be able to guess, Mr Brabazon) but one of those I was thinking of held (as one of his peerages) an English barony of immense antiquity. His thoughts on the Irish were always diverting.

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