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Crusader Hospital in Jerusalem

1000-Year-Old Crusader Hospital Unveiled in Jerusalem

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Thirteen years after excavation work quietly began, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have just announced the finding of a 1000-year-old building which was once the largest hospital in the Middle East and run by Crusader monks.

Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the 11th-century building was spread out over more than 150,000 square feet and characterized by massive pillars, ribbed vaults, smaller halls, patient rooms and ceilings as high as 20 feet.

The hospital was established between 1099 and 1291, with permission from the Muslim authorities, by a Christian military order called the Knights Hospitaller. Its members vowed to care for pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to die. The gigantic building also served as an orphanage and orphans joined the order of the Hospitallers as adults.

 “The Muslim Arab population was instrumental in assisting the Crusaders in establishing the hospital and teaching them medicine,” the IAA archaeologists said.  It was the Muslim hero Salah a-Din, who conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders, who helped preserve the structure, allowing 10 Crusader monks to run the hospital.

Historical documents have revealed that the hospital was highly organised with different wings and departments for patients suffering from different medical conditions. In times of emergency, it could take in up to 2,000 patients from all religions.  There was even a system for ensuring Jewish patients received kosher food.

However, while the level of organisation was on par with modern standards, the level of medical skills was not. “They were completely ignorant in all aspects of medicine and sanitation,” said the IAA archaeologists.  Detailed analyses of the site revealed crosses carved into skulls to remove evil spirits and headaches and legs amputated just because of small infected wounds.

In the earthquake of 1457, the building collapsed. During the Ottoman Empire, what remained was used as a fruit and vegetable market that operated until 2000.

Plans have now been unveiled to open part of the building to visitors.  The hospital’s main hall will be integrated in a restaurant and other areas will be converted into a visitor centre, which will be open to the public in the next year. Monser Shwieki, Manager of the restaurant project has said that “Its patrons will be impressed by the enchanting atmosphere of the Middle Ages that prevails there”.

By April Holloway

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