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Pearls from the Pend No.11

Saving and Enhancing Life


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 than as a means through which the agent of the good works might hope to secure salvation.’

Hospitium is the Classical concept of hospitality as a divine right of the guest and a divine duty of the host. Hospitality is the practical expression of the three virtues – faith, hope, charity – the greatest of which, as Paul the Apostle pointed out, is charity.

Since pioneering works such as the book by Edgar Erskine Hume, Lt-Colonel, Medical Corps, United States Army, and a Knight of Malta, there has been considerable research into the medical practices of the Knights Hospitaller and the architectural significance of the Knights’ medieval hospitals in Jerusalem, St Jean d’Acre (Akko), Rhodes and Valletta.

What follows is a list of recently acquired books and articles available in the Chancery Library focusing on the medical aspects of the Knights of St John. 

Barber, Malcolm (ed.), The Military Orders  [Vol. 1]: Fighting for the Faith and Caring for the Sick, Aldershot: Variorum, 1994.

Boas, Adrian J., Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades: Society, landscape and art in the Holy City under Frankish rule, London: Routledge, 2001

Chapter 15, in particular, about the hospital of the Order of St John, built c.1140-55, and a second hospital run by the Order for female patients, is of particular interest. According to William of Tyre, the hospital was higher than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and could accommodate between 900 and 1000 patients in regular times, twice as many during an emergency.

Bom, Myra, ‘The Hospital of St John, the Bedroom of Caritas’, Ch. 10 in Upton-Ward, J. (2008), pp. 85-9. 

Chignell, Anthony, The St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital: A Personal Account of the years 2002 to 2008, London: Order of St John, 2008.

Comrie, John D., History of Scottish Medicine to 1860 [Research Studies in Medical History No. 4], London: The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, 1927

Referring to Torphichen Preceptory in Ch. 1 [‘Early Medicine in Scotland’, pp. 25-8], Comrie writes: ‘The grounds of the Preceptory were a Scotch acre in extent, enclosed by a moat, and a portion of them was known as “the Knights’ Garden”, in which medicinal herbs were cultivated.’

Edgington, Susan, ‘Medical Care in the Hospital of St John in Jerusalem’, Ch. 2 in Nicholson, H. (1998), pp. 27-33.

Gregg, George, ‘The State of Medicine at the Time of the Crusades’, Ulster Medical Journal, Vol. 32(2), 1963, pp. 141-50. 

Hall, Derek, '“Unto yone hospital at the tounis end”: the Scottish Medieval Hospital’, Tayside & Fife Archaeological Journal, Vol. 12, 2006, pp. 89-105.     

Hume, Edgar Erskine, Medical Work of the Knights Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1940.

Karassava-Tsilingiri, Fotini, ‘The Fifteenth-Century Hospital of Rhodes: Tradition and Innovation’, Ch. 10 in Barber, M. (1994), pp. 89-96.

Kedar, Benjamin Z., ‘A Twelfth-Century Description of the Jerusalem Hospital’, Ch. 1 in Nicholson, H. (1998), pp. 3-26.

Luttrell, Anthony, ‘The Hospitallers’ Medical Tradition: 1291-1530’, Ch. 8 in Barber, M. (1994), pp. 64-81.

MacLennan, W. J., ‘Medieval Hospitals in Scotland: a cure for body or soul?’, Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Vol. 33 (Suppl. 12), 2003, pp. 36-41.

MacLennan, W. J., ‘Torphichen and the Knights Hospitaller’, Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Vol. 33 (Suppl. 12), 2003, pp. 64-71.

Militzer, Klaus, ‘The Role of Hospitals in the Teutonic Order’, Ch. 5 in Nicholson, H. (1998), pp. 51-9.

Miller, Stephen J. H., “Ten Years as Hospitaller”: The Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem, 1981-1990, London, Grand Priory of the Order of St John, 1990.

Mitchell, Piers D., Medicine in the Crusades: Warfare, Wounds and the Medieval Surgeon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

A Research Fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, Piers Mitchell has produced the first history of Western medical practice during the Crusades. This seminal work includes a translation by Vivian Nutton of the Frankish Medical and Negligence Regulations. Using later data from Cyprus, the author estimates that within the Frankish medical community 10% were physicians, 14% surgeons, 25% apothecaries, 35% barbers and the rest non-specified. The author argues that, contrary to received wisdom, there is no evidence that Frankish medical skills and techniques were better or worse than those displayed by their Orthodox, Jewish or Muslim counterparts. 

Moffat, Brian, ‘SHARP practice: The search for medieval medical treatments’, Archaeology Today, Vol. 8 (4), 1987, pp. 22-8.

Nicholson, Helen (ed.), The Military Orders [Vol. 2]: Welfare and Warfare, Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998.

O’Shea, John G., ‘A History of the St John Ophthalmic Hospital, Jerusalem’, Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Vol 27, 1997, pp. 603-10.

Pringle, Denys, ‘The Layout of the Jerusalem Hospital in the Twelfth Century: Further Thoughts and Suggestions’, Ch. 11 in Upton-Ward, J. (2008), pp. 91-110.

Toll, Christopher, ‘Arabic Medicine and Hospitals in the Middle Ages: a Probable Model for the Military Orders’ Care of the Sick’, Ch. 3 in Nicholson, H. (1998), 35-41.

Upton-Ward, Judi (ed.), The Military Orders [Vol. 4]: On Land and by Sea, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.

Wallis, Faith (ed.), Medieval Medicine: A Reader, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

Williams, Ann, ‘Xenodochium to Sacred Infirmary: The Changing Role of the Hospital of the Order of St John, 1522-1631’, Ch. 11 in Barber, M. (1994), pp. 97-102.

In response to increasing movement restrictions and the high rates of eye problems in the West Bank, in
November 2015 the St John Eye Hospital Group moved into its new hospital in Hebron. In 2017 Hebron
Hospital treated over 12,400 people including performing over 420 major operations.                

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