Pearls from the Pend

Latest posts

The Riddle of the Stones

Situated on a sheltered plain, away from all post-roads or thoroughfares, and once a place of great importance as it is of high antiquity, it now consists of only a few cottages, and has a straggling and deserted appearance. [Description of Torphichen in 1843]  At the height of the renewed Anglo-Scottish war, stamped by fearContinue reading “The Riddle of the Stones”

A Chivalric Chamber

Each year at Epiphany, during the Feast of the Three Kings, medieval knights laid their hands on a roasted peacock encased in its full plumage – a heraldic symbol of resurrection and immortality – and re-affirmed their obligation to chivalry. If there is no aspiration to accept something higher than daily existence, life stagnates. AContinue reading “A Chivalric Chamber”

Jerusalem – and Historia

“There have always been two Jerusalems, the temporal and the celestial, both ruled more by faith and emotion than by reason and facts.” Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (2011) Hospital … Jerusalem. Two words that direct, influence, inspire, remind and rouse all members of our charitable confraternity, our Sovereign’s Most Venerable Order. In recent years the LibrarianContinue reading “Jerusalem – and Historia”

Crosses of Compassion

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), on 8 May  2020, St John Scotland’s Glasgow Area Committee had intended to hold a fund-raising VE Day Tea Party & Fair – until the Fourth Horseman appeared from the east and  compelled global lockdown and self-isolation. Premonitions of impending conflict prompted requests,Continue reading “Crosses of Compassion”

Pool of Siloam

In 2017 the St John Ophthalmic Association (SOA) was established by ophthalmic practitioners across the world to support the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group. The purpose of the Association is to broaden the ophthalmic expertise available to St John and its staff. In April 2017 the SOA held its first scientific congress inContinue reading Pool of Siloam

Through a glass, darkly

ARTHUR FERGUSON MACCALLAN (1872-1955) : TRACHOMA PIONEER Michael MacCallan Introduction  Arthur Ferguson MacCallan CBE OStJ MD FRCS was an ophthalmic surgeon who developed his pioneering work on trachoma (MacCallan Classification)while in Egypt between 1903 and1923. During that time, he also established the Egyptian ophthalmic infrastructure, consisting of both permanent and travelling hospitals and the researchContinue reading Through a glass, darkly

Folios of Faith

BIBLIOTHECA  ORDINIS  SANCTI  JOHANNIS  IN  SCOTIA Duncan McAra ‘Without libraries what have we?We have no past and no future.’ Ray Bradbury The library in St John’s House is nowhere as large as, say, Innerpeffray Library (1680), near Crieff, or the Leighton Library (1687) in Dunblane, but the collection is housed in the Chancery of a historicContinue reading Folios of Faith

Saving and Enhancing Life

MEDICAL READING LIST Duncan McAra As Anthony Luttrell succinctly points out: ‘The Hospitallers’ original concern, reflected in their Rule, was with the poor, an involvement which was directed increasingly to those poor or pilgrims who became ill.  This expressed a contemporary urge to give practical help to the suffering as an end in itself rather thanContinue reading Saving and Enhancing Life

Munificence from Mainz

THE GUTENBERG BIBLE Duncan McAra ‘… of making many books there is no end …’ Eccles 12:12 A good friend of the Priory of Scotland is Herr Olaf Dankert, a Knight of Grace of the Bailiwick of Brandenburg, Johanniterorden, who travels from Mainz to attend each year’s Festival of St John. During the Reception onContinue reading Munificence from Mainz

Bearers of the Cross

Duncan McAra History is not a branch of tourism. Through knowledge of the past, history anchors or roots a person in the present, establishing reference points; without it, one is simply bobbing helplessly along on the surface of ever-changing currents of ‘novelty’, of ‘fashions’, of ‘trends’. The Librarian has recently learned of an interesting researchContinue reading Bearers of the Cross

Women with the healing touch

Duncan McAra ONE subject area which the Librarian has been keen to extend is the medical history of the Hospitallers, which includes the often overlooked but significant contribution by female members. A recent addition to the literature is Women in the Military Orders of the Crusades by Myra Miranda Bom (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2012). By placingContinue reading Women with the healing touch

Recent Additions to the Library

Duncan McAra SINCE the pre-war and post-war publications about the Knights of St John by authors such as Sir Edwin King, Elizabeth Schermerhorn, Claire Eliane Engel and Jonathan Riley-Smith – to name only a few – there has been in recent decades a surge of interest in the Military Orders and the Crusades in books, bothContinue reading Recent Additions to the Library


Jonathan Riley-Smith, GCStJ, MA, LittD, FRHistS June 27 1938 – September 13 2016 Duncan McAra THE death has recently occurred of Jonathan Riley-Smith, Emeritus Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Cambridge. An influential scholar regarding the Crusades and the Military Orders and the founder and president of the Society for the Study of the CrusadesContinue reading IN MEMORIAM


Mrs Eileen Fisher McIver CStJ, FSAScot, 1920 – 2015 Eileen McIver became a Member of the Order in 1991, and through her loyal contribution to the care and maintenance of the Priory Library in St John’s House in Edinburgh, she was eventually promoted to Commander in 1999. She attended the Chancery Library on a dailyContinue reading IN MEMORIAM

Meet the Librarian

THE Librarian of St John Scotland is Duncan McAra, CStJ. He worked as an assistant in the Faculty of Advocates Library, then academic studies followed and a sixteen-year spell in London book publishing. He is now a literary agent. Duncan is a member of the Companions of the Order of Malta and of the Clerkenwell-based St John Historical Society, as wellContinue reading “Meet the Librarian”

Raven’s-eye View

Duncan McAra ON the last Sunday in August, members worship in the Preceptory or parish kirk of Torphichen to commemorate the Martyrdom of St John the Baptist, our patron. On this solemn feast day we can make an imaginative leap and encounter once more the ghosts of our hospitaller forebears whose calendar and duties –Continue reading “Raven’s-eye View”


A Selected Bibliography Duncan McAra WHAT started out as a purely private ‘book-keeping’ exercise might, I hope, be of some reference value to members of the Priory of Scotland. By the very scale of the subject covered in so many languages, such a Bibliography must be selective. Many of the books listed I have obtainedContinue reading THE MILITARY ORDERS

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