Archbishop James John van Ryswyck (also Ryswyk) (1898-1963) of the Apostolic Church of St Peter served as Grande Prieur of the San Luigi Orders for England under Prince-Abbot Edmond I, until his retirement in 1960.
John van Ryswyck was born in Holland, and as a boy travelled with his family to the Dutch East Indies, which led to a lifelong interest in Eastern culture. He served in the Dutch navy and undertook intelligence duties. He subsequently became a naturalized British citizen. He was a noted spiritual teacher and lecturer, and in 1935 founded the Apostolic Church of St Peter. His home, and that of his church and related organizations, was Eldon Lodge in Victoria Road, Kensington, London W8.
Eldon Lodge had been built for the painter Alfred Corbauld, and is an extremely substantial house with Tudor, baronial and Gothic elements. van Ryswyck converted Corbauld’s first floor studio into a chapel, the Sanctuary of the Vigil, and since his church and other organizations were open solely to initiates, this served as their place of worship. The basement, meanwhile, contained a large hall which served as the home for a number of chivalric orders. During the 1970s, Eldon Lodge would become the London centre of the Liberal Catholic Church before the purchase of the current pro-cathedral at Putney.
The work of the Apostolic Church of St Peter was a combination of elaborate Catholic worship with a process of inner teaching that was derived from Freemasonry. van Ryswyck was a staunch opponent of Communism in all its forms, and there were even (unsubstantiated) rumours at one point that he had received consecration from a Roman Catholic bishop in order to assist the Vatican in its fight against that ideology. He saw his mission and that of his followers in terms of the spiritual defence of global civilization.
In 1947, van Ryswyck was heavily involved in the F.U.D.O.S.I. (Federatio Universalis Dirigens Ordines Societatesque Initiationis) Congress at Paris that brought together many esoteric groups of the day. This was no small affair; there were 2,200 US groups represented and 300 French delegates in addition to representatives of other countries. Raymond Duncan was among the attendees. One objective was to establish a Supreme Martinist Council to bring together the various groups in that tradition; another was to establish a World Spiritual Parliament.
Aside from the Apostolic Church of St Peter, there were two main initiatic organizations that van Ryswyck headed, in addition to the many in which he held office and membership. These were the Temple of Service and the Avatar Defenders of Civilization (also known as the Order of Avatar and Avatar Imperium Internum), of which latter group he was Founder-President. Avatar was “an organization of people of all races, believing in the fundamental spiritual basis of life, as opposed to present-day materialism – in this sense a ‘Spiritual Kingdom’…the primary object of the Avatar Plans are decentralization of political power and the independence of all peoples and nations in Autonomous States, which may be federated into cultural and ethical groups, provided this is done with the consent of the peoples concerned,” and “a Universal Order working for a new way of life based on the sacredness of The Individual and the Spiritual Foundations of human existence.” Belief in past lives and in reincarnation appears to have been common. Avatar was finally dissolved in 1997 following a court case.
van Ryswyck held a large number of nobiliary and chivalric titles from various sources, including the Paterno Castello house and various of the Italo-Byzantine pretenders.
On 6 November 1949, at the mansion chapel of the Lord Patriarch Banks in East Molesey, van Ryswyck received conditional ordination up to the priesthood from Mar Georgius of Glastonbury (q.v.), who was a senior member of the San Luigi Orders. On 20 November, at Eldon Lodge, van Ryswyck was conditionally consecrated by Mar Georgius in an elaborate ceremony. This was described in Christocracy, the journal of the Apostolic Church of St Peter, as follows, “After the opening voluntary, Ave Verum, the procession entered to the music of the Creed, rendered by the choir of the Russian Orthodox Church of Paris. The Lord Patriarch [Mar Georgius] was attired in robes of cloth of gold. Bishop Langhelt and Fr. Sandys-Pemberton in white dalmatic and tunicle respectively, and Mgr. van Ryswyck in white and gold, in sharp contrast to which stood out the black and white bands of the Solicitor (Mr E.F. Power-Green). It is interesting to note that the epigonation worn by Mgr. van Ryswyck was presented to him by Bey Sulik Acarli, President of the Turkish Social Democratic Party, and Sacretary of the Red Crescent…After the long function Mgr. van Ryswyck was solemnly enthroned by the Patriarch by the name, style and jurisdiction of Mar Joannes, Lord Bishop of Ryswyck, and Imperator of the Ordo Equestris Militaris Avatar…Before the recessional, His Beatitude conferred upon Brigadier L.M. Poole, D.S.O., the Knighthood of the Order of St Gregory and Sarkis, and upon the Bishop of Ryswyck, the grade of Knight Grand Cross with the title of Duke de Richelieu-Ryswyck in the Order of the Spiritual Christian Nation [a body founded by the late Patriarch Frederic C.A. Harrington of the Ecclesiae Rosicrucianae Catholicae], these honours having been awarded for the services which the gentlemen concerned had rendered to religion.” The photograph taken after the ceremony above shows van Ryswyck seated, with, from left, Mar Francis (Langhelt), Mar Georgius and Fr. Sandys-Pemberton.
At van Ryswyck’s funeral in 1963, the San Luigi Orders were represented by Fr. Brougham Yates Claxton, who acted as Mgr. Tull’s deputy during his time as Grande Prieur.
van Ryswyck consecrated a successor, (Rupert) John Luker (1906-84), who was a Grande Officier in the Order of the Crown of Thorns. During the 1950s, it was Luker who undertook most of the administration of the San Luigi Orders in England. Under his direction, fundraising took place among the members in aid of two London hospitals. He continued in membership under Mgr. Tull, being advanced to Grande Croix, until his resignation from the San Luigi Orders on 5 May 1970.