Do I have a name for you: Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem.
Yeah, that’s a mouthful and a half. Let me translate for you (but it’s still a long name): Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem.
To simplify, they’re called the Teutonic Knights.
Perhaps you’ve heard of them, they’re the guys that lost Old Prussia to what became Prussia. Their issues with Prussia were legendary and downright cruel in their torment of each other. When Albert of Brandenburg converted to Lutheranism in the 1520’s, the Order was totally kicked to the curb for good.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself…
The Teutonic Knights, a strictly German religious/military organization, wasn’t even founded in Germany. Nope, it started in Acre; a town within the Holy Land.
Wherever it originated the story remains the same. They were formed in the 12th century to protect German speaking pilgrims and Crusaders on their way to, from, and around the Holy Land; moving to Transylvania after their services were no longer needed in the Middle East.
The basis for the Teutonic Knights was the same as the Knights Hospitallers and the Knights Templar. And were officially recognized by the Pope in 1192. Their medieval organization was a hierarchy, with the Hochmeister (Grand Master) at the top; and membership is restricted to Germans only (as it remains to this day).
As altruistic as the Teutonic Knights started (their motto was Help. Defend. Heal.), they were a war faring bunch, having fought against the Kingdom of Poland, the Duchy of Lithuania (Christianity hadn’t gotten that far yet), and the Prussians.
Their organization wasn’t without controversy, either. Knights of the Teutonic Order believed that those who weren’t Christian were nothing more than to be used in slavery. On several of their conquests they used Russian and Lithuanian women and children as such.
They acquired considerable wealth throughout the years, receiving donations from the Holy Roman Empire and as far away as Palestine. The Teutonic Knights bought themselves many castles this way, including one in Acre (which they lost in 1271) and Marienburg Castle (which can be found in Malbork, Poland). One of the most beautiful is the Castle of the Teutonic Order, found in Bad Mergentheim.
Teutonic Knights eventually established their own monastic state, creating towns like Königsberg in the process. They fought hard to maintain their state, which by the height of their power in the late 14th/early 15th century included land in Poland, Russia, and Lithuania; and a naval presence in the Baltic Sea.
Despite their downfall in terms of political power and wealth, the Teutonic Knights survived throughout the subsequent centuries; only to be dissolved in Germany in 1809 by Napoleon. Their Order was kept going by setting up shop in neighboring Austria, where the short stature fellow couldn’t do anything about it.
A little over a hundred years later, the Knights were disbanded again; totally outlawed by Adolf Hitler in 1938, who considered their military wing a threat. This time they didn’t set up their organization somewhere else, they waited until 1945 after WW II ended.
Hitler, however, wasn’t above using the Knights’ heroic deeds of the past go without using them for his propaganda.
Prior to Hitler and Napoleon, this Catholic organization even managed to survive the Protestant Reformation, albeit they did organize a Protestant division afterwards.
Today, the Teutonic Knights holds at 1,000 members (consisting of priests, nuns, and associates). They have taken to the Order’s original mission of helping the ill and infirm German speaking community.
It’s good to see after almost 900 years, the Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem is living up to its motto.