From Jerusalem to Malta: the Hospital’s Character and Evolution

From Jerusalem to Malta: the Hospital’s Character and Evolution

By Anthony Luttrell

Peregrinationes : Acta et Documenta, 13–22 (Malta: Accademia Internazionale Melitense, (2000)

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Introduction: The origins of the Order of St. John remain somewhat obscure, and the homelands of the founder Girardus, perhaps an Italian, and of the first Master Fr. Raymond de Podio, possibly French or Provençal, are unknown. The emergence of the Hospital was an aspect of the profound religious revival in the West which generated a reformed papacy, monastic renewal based on Cluny, lay movements for the support of charity and hospitals, and the first crusade. Probably in about 1070 various merchants from Amalfi, and perhaps from elsewhere in Southern Italy, founded a hospice for Latin pilgrims in Jerusalem which was attached to the Benedictine house of Sancta Maria Latina; subsequently a second house was established for women. These hospices were for pilgrims and especially for the poor rather than for the medically sick. Their staff may have been lay brethren under some vow of obedience. The hospices seem not to have had their own incomes or endowments, their resources coming from the Amalfitans and the Benedictines and perhaps also from pilgrims and other visitors.

The crusaders’ conquest of 1099 brought fundamental change to Jerusalem which became a Christian city. The number of Latin pilgrims and poor increased, the Holy Sepulchre was occupied by Latin canons and the Greek Patriarch was replaced by a Latin one. The Benedictines of Sancta Maria Latina lost their predominance in Jerusalem. The Latin hospice survived under its competent leader Girardus; it was detached from Sancta Maria Latina and was somehow associated with the Holy Sepulchre nearby. It expanded greatly and reincorporated the female hospice, while support and donations were received in Syria and in the West, especially from those who had themselves benefitted from the Jerusalem hospital. For several years that organization was not entirely independent but formed part of a broad Holy Sepulchre movement which had inspired the crusade itself. This movement had several branches: an ecclesiastical group formed by the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre, a charitable element in the adjacent hospital, and a military wing consisting in the 1110s of knights owing obedience to the Prior of the Holy Sepulchre. These knights apparently lived in the Hospital quarters until 1120 when they moved to the Temple area and established themselves there as a military order, the Templars.

In Syria the Hospital was accepted as a separate entity, but the earliest donations in the West showed monies for the Holy Sepulchre and the Hospital being collected jointly and men making gifts which were often addressed ambiguously to God, to the Holy Sepulchre, to Saint John, to the poor and sick in Jerusalem or to some combination of these. Many Western Latins knew that there was a hospital in Jerusalem but were slow to recognize it as an independent institution.

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