In this podcast series, through the historic library collection of the Museum of the Order of St John and guided by Dr Stephen Mossman, we will travel across Europe meeting the literary witnesses to the lives of the men and women who joined, supported, or were helped by the Order of St John in past times. In each episode we take an item off the shelves from the Museum’s historic library collection in the West Tower of St John’s Gate, and explore different aspects of the Hospitallers’ history that it leads us to investigate.


We’ll be taking a closer look at subjects ranging from indulgences, to pilgrimage, charitable donation and care for the sick – the hospitals for which the Order has been rightly famed from its inception to its present incarnation as St John Ambulance. If you are now wondering what an indulgence actually is, what the real purpose of pilgrimage was, or even what the medieval equivalent of a food bank looked like, we’ll be answering these questions and more besides!


You can listen to available episodes below, or to make sure you don’t miss out on upcoming episodes you can subscribe to the series on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Audible, CastBox, Pocket Casts, Podcast Addict and Spotify.


We would love to hear from you, our listeners! We will be recording a special podcast at the end of the series to answer your questions – so if there is anything that comes to your mind to ask, whether about the history, the books themselves, the Museum or anything else, or any other feedback or commentary you would like to give, do please write to us at and we’ll do our best to answer!


Episode 1: Off the Shelves

Stephen Mossman and Abi Cornick discuss the history of the Order of St John from its origins in twelfth-century Jerusalem to the modern St John Ambulance, and the genesis of its Museum and historic library in St John’s Gate. Why was a religious order that had been suppressed in the British Isles during the Reformation reinvented in the Victorian era? What had happened to its old priory in London, and how was it rediscovered for the Museum?

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Episode 2: The Indulgence

Stephen Mossman and Hannah Agass discuss the indulgence and its importance for the Order of St John in the late Middle Ages – but what actually was an indulgence? Why were indulgences so highly prized, and yet so controversial? How did the Hospitallers transform the indulgence to make the Ottoman attack on Rhodes in 1480 into the first great mass media event of the print age?

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Episode 3: Pilgrimage

Stephen Mossman and Anna Mason discuss one of the most extraordinary works from the first generation of European printing: the account of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land undertaken by two Germans, the writer Bernhard von Breydenbach and the artist Erhard Reuwich, in 1483-84. But what was pilgrimage in the medieval Christian imagination actually for, and why did Hospitaller Rhodes come to play such an important part in it?

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Episode 4: Centre and Periphery

Stephen Mossman and Abi Cornick discuss the problems of achieving uniformity in behaviour and in ways of life in an international organization before the advent of modern communication – a problem especially acute for the Order of St John, with its institutional centre out on the Mediterranean margins, far distant from the European centres of power on which it relied. How did printing change that dynamic, not always in the ‘right’ direction?

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Episode 5: The Donors

Stephen Mossman and Abi Cornick discuss why lay women and men made donations – of money, of land, and sometimes of themselves – to the Order of St John. How far can we know what was in the minds of individuals in the far distant past? What can a cache of ancient documents in the Museum’s collection tell us about the lives of French farmers and their relationship to the Order nearly eight hundred years ago?

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Episode 6: Our Lords the Sick

Stephen Mossman and Rebecca Raven discuss the caritative impulse at the heart of the Hospitaller mission: the care for the sick. How did the sisters and brothers of the Order of St John realize that mission? What were their hospitals like, and who did they serve? What else did they do for the poor and the sick of medieval and early modern Europe? And what was their role in providing the medieval equivalent of a food bank?

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Bonus Episodes

Bonus episode 1: Ritual

A short look at four items off the library’s shelves that illuminate the liturgical ritual of the Hospitaller brethren: the songs they sang, the texts they chanted, and the processions they led.

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Bonus Episode 2: The Chancellor

A short look at some of the works in the Library from the pen of the Order’s outstanding literary figure: its vice-chancellor Guillaume Caoursin, the great propagandist of the Rhodiot cause in the late fifteenth century.

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Bonus Episode 3: Histories

A short look at three key monuments in the historiographical tradition of the Order of St John: works by which it came to understand its past and present its history to the wider world.

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The Museum of the Order of St John would like to thank all those who have supported and continue to support its work. In particular, the Museum would like to thank the following for their generosity: