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Gigantic Hospital from Crusader Era Unearthed in Old City of Jerusalem

Hospital is believed to have been established nearly a thousand years ago to care for poor Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem

By: Sandra Mergulhão
Published: August 8th, 2013 in News » Israel
The large hospital in Jerusalem believed to be from Crusader era

According to a statement made by the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists have unearthed a huge hospital from the Crusader era in Jerusalem’s Old City.

So far, archaeologists have uncovered only a portion of the complex, which covers an estimated 3.7 acres.

The gigantic building was excavated by the IAA in conjunction with the Grand Bazaar Company of East Jerusalem, as the latter were trying to open a restaurant on site, during a dig in the Christian quarter of Muristan. Incidentally, Muristan is based on the Persian word for 'hospital'.

According to historians, the hospital was built by a Christian military order called the Knights Hospitaller. Named after John the Baptist, the order is also known as Knights of Saint John and was founded around 1023. It was established to care for poor and sick Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem. After the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099, the Hospitallers gained their own Papal charter.

"We’ve learned about the hospital from contemporary historical documents, most of which are written in Latin," Amit Re’em and Renee Forestany, co-directors of the IAA said in their statement. "These mention a sophisticated hospital that is as large and as organized as a modern hospital."

According to the Times of Israel, the earliest description comes from around 1160 by John of Wurzburg, a German pilgrim. He wrote, "Over against the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the opposite side of the way toward the south, is a beautiful church built in honor of John the Baptist, annexed to which is a hospital, wherein in various rooms is collected together an enormous multitude of sick people. When I was there I learned that the whole number of these sick people amounted to two thousand, of whom sometimes in the course of one day and night more than fifty are carried out dead, while many other fresh ones keep continually arriving."

Some contemporary accounts say that the hospital even served kosher food to Jewish patients.

While major sections of the hospital structure collapsed in an earthquake in 1457, some portions survived and remained in use through the Ottoman period and, until the year 2000, the building was owned by the Muslim Waqf and was home to a fruit and vegetable market. From then till date, the structure has stood empty just off the Arab market on David Street.

Officials of the Grand Bazaar company say that the new restaurant will be integrated into the existing structure, and "patrons will be able to marvel at the magical medieval atmosphere at the site." The site is scheduled to open to the public later this year.

Related articles: Archaeology, Israel Archaeology, Crusader Era, Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem, John the Baptist
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