From the first crusade, in 1096, the need to create associations of Knights of religious-military character, devoted to the defence of the Holy Land and to the assistance of the pilgrims' was felt.
And in fact, immediately after the liberation of Jerusalem, Godfrey de Boullon entrusted to a select Body organized as an ''Order'', and composed of fifty Knight-monks who wore a white tunic on which was superimposed a bold red cross , with four more small red crosses, the honour of the armed guard of the Holy Sepulchre.
Some of these Knights were in the Church, others laymen, but all of them knew - when necessary how to use a sword.
They owed obedience to the Patriarch in Jerusalem and they followed the ''rule''of Saint Augustine.
The oldest document testifying to the institution of the Order goes back to 1103 to Baldovino Ist, younger brother of Godfrey de Boullon. With it he gave permission to the Patriarch in Jerusalem to create Knights of the Order.
Kings and Princes considered themself honoured to belong to the Order, on which they lavished goods and favours, with the consequence that the Order spread wider and grew in strength not only in the Holy Land, but also in Europe, from Spain to Poland, from Italy to France, to England, to Germany, to Hungary.
With the fall of the Kingdom in Jerusalem, the purpose that had determined the creation of the Order failed - namely the territorial defence of the Holy Land in general and of the Holy Sepulchre in particular but a new one replaced it, as noble, as important and longer lasting over time: the spiritual defence of the values of Christianity in the Holy Land and the material maintenance of its Sanctuaries.
From the XVIth to the XVIIIth century the Order lost his compactness and only about half way through the XIXth century did it become possible to reconstitute it in a single organism.
The originator of this was Pope Pious IX who succeeded in stipulating an accord with the Sublime Porta and with the Brief of July 23rd 1847 reestablished the Patriarchy in Jerusalem. The Order of the Holy Sepulcre was placed under its control.
With the Brief ''Quam Romani Pontefices'' of September 14th 1949, Pious XII transferred the Government of the Order from Jerusalem to Rome and ordained that the Grand Master of the Order was to be a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church while the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem was to assume the title and the prerogatives of Grand Prior.
For further information on the Order and on the Grand Magisterium: