Gerard Thom

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Blessed Fra' Gerard
++Gerard Tum, by Laurent Cars.jpg
Gerard Tum, Founder of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, copper engraving by Laurent Cars, c. 1725
Founder, Grand Master
Born c. 1040
Died September 3, 1120
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Major shrine Monastery of St. Ursula, Valletta, Malta
Feast October 13
Patronage Day of Emergency Medicine (Poland)

Blessed Fra' Gerard (c. 1040 – September 3, 1120), variously surnamed Tum, Tune, Tenque or Thom, is accredited as the founder of the Knights Hospitaller as well as numerous other groups who trace their descent and/or inspiration to the original Hospitaller's order.


Since the death of Christ, the Holy Land has attracted pilgrims from throughout Christendom. The journey to Jerusalem was often one of penance and piety, with many pilgrims going to the Holy Land to carry out a penance given by a confessor or as a personal act of devotion. Some would even go to the Holy Land to die and be buried there, and so be one of the first to witness the second coming of Christ. While the pilgrimage to the Holy Land was relatively short – only five months from western France – it was riddled with risks, including: inclement weather, shipwrecks, bandits, and unsafe roads. Pilgrims often arrived to the Holy Land sick and in need of assistance.

Even before the crusades, hostelries were indispensable to shelter the pilgrims who flocked to the Holy Places, and in the beginning the hospitia or xenodochia were nothing more. They belonged to different nations; a Frankish hospice is spoken of in the time of Charlemagne; the Hungarian hospice is said to date from King St. Stephen (year 1000).[1]

Recognizing the pilgrims’ plight, several merchants from the Amalfi region of Italy petitioned the Caliph of Egypt to open a hospital in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem near the Holy Sepulcher. One of these merchants, Mauro of Pantaleone, was close to the abbot of the powerful Benedictine abbey of Montecassino. Together they established the abbey of St. Mary of the Latins and the nunnery, St Mary Magdalene. Cassinese monks would have tended to the sick and poor pilgrims. They also would have been responsible for burying all of the Christians who died in Jerusalem. With the influx of pilgrims, between 1060 and 1070, the Benedictines established the Hospital of St. John,[2] dedicated to St. John the Baptist.[3]

Gerard's origins[edit]

Gerard most likely was a Benedictine lay brother or frates conversi who came to the Holy Land to serve at the abbey of St. Mary of the Latins.[2] He may have been from Amalfi or another region of Italy or from southern France. He may have been born in Amalfi, in Southern Italy, and may have had some connection to the convent of Saint Lawrence in Amalfi. Other accounts hold he was born in Martigues, Provence, while one authority even names the Chateau d'Avesnes in Hainaut as his birthplace.

Work at the Hospital[edit]

During the First Crusade (1099), although the Christian population had been expelled from Jerusalem, Gerard was able to remain behind with some fellow serving brothers to tend to the sick in the hospital.

During the thirteenth century, Hospitallers would tell the story of how he was able to hide bread within the folds of his cloak to feed the hungry Crusaders outside the city walls. When the Muslims rulers discovered Gerard they miraculously only found stones within his cloak. However, other accounts tell how the Muslims believed that Gerard was hoarding money[3] and not paying the proper taxes, and he was tortured so badly that he was slightly disabled for the rest of his life.

After the Crusade, Gerard was able to continue his work at the hospital. Now, pilgrims were not his only patients, but also wounded knights who had fought in the Crusade. Among these sick was Raymond du Puy, who would later become his successor as head of the Order. The European noblemen were inspired by Gerard’s compassion and attentive care, and so they donated both money and land.

Founding of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem[edit]

As the hospital’s success and size grew, Gerard, with several knights, broke away from the Benedictines and founded a new religious order dedicated to the sick and poor. The Order adopted a rule that adopted components from the Rule of St Benedict and the Rule of St Augustine. The new order’s members wore a black habit with a white, eight-pointed cross. By 1113 by decree of Pope Paschal II’s papal bull Pie Postulatio Voluntatis, the Order of St. John gained independence and was established as a religious order dedicated to serving Christ through serving the sick and poor. Because of this papal bull, the Order was able to elect its own superiors without interference from bishops or other religious authorities except the pope and secular authorities. The Order was also able to own property.

Because of the economic and educational transformations in both the Church and State during the Middle Ages, the Order of St. John of Jerusalem was able to become a global institution.[2] The Order’s influence was not limited to Jerusalem; it held properties close to the major pilgrimage routes and points of embarkation in Spain, Italy and France. It quickly rose in prominence and wealth. Despite the Order’s rapid growth, Gerard remained a humble servant. He encouraged Members of the Order to consider the poor “as our lords whose servants we acknowledge ourselves to be.” In a feudal world governed by strict hierarchy and familial ties, this was exceptional. This service to the sick and poor would influence the spirituality of the Order, for by welcoming the sick, the Order welcomed and cared for Christ.

Gerard's death and afterwards[edit]

Following the creation of the Order, Gerard continued to serve the sick and poor and his brethren for another twenty-four years. He died in his seventies on September 3, between 1118 and 1121. His epitaph on his tomb at the Hospital of St. John reads:

Here lies Gerard, the humblest man in the East, the slave (servus) of the poor, hospitable to strangers, meek of countenance but with a noble heart. One can see in these walls how good he was. He was provident and active. Exerting himself in all sorts of ways, he stretched forth his arms into many lands to obtain what he needed to feed his own. On the seventeenth day of the passage of the sun under the sign of Virgo (September 3, 1120) he was carried into heaven by the hands of angels.[2]

After his death, the Hospitallers tried to preserve Gerard’s body and it was kept in the monastery in Jerusalem and later moved to Acre after the fall of the city. When the situation in the Holy Land became precarious, his body was moved to the West. However, his skeleton was destroyed during the French Revolution. Gerard’s relics can be found in several Provençal churches. His skull can be found in the Monasterio Santa Ursula in Valletta, Malta.


  1. ^ Moeller, Charles (1910). Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7 (New York: Robert Appleton Company). Retrieved 4 September 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant: circa 1070-1309. 
  3. ^ a b Nicholson, Helen J., The Knights Hospitaller,Boydell & Brewer, 2001, ISBN 9780851158457

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller
Succeeded by
Raymond du Puy de Provence