For roughly two hundred years in the very heart of
Christendom — in the Kingdom of Jerusalem -- free,
modern (by the standards of
the day), professional health care became "the norm." It was the product
of an innovative new institution that viewed providing health and
hospice care for the poor it's primary mission. At the time, hospitals
as institutions for the treatment and cure (as opposed to the spiritual
care) of the sick were unknown in Western Europe. The innovations
introduced by this new institution were rapidly imitated in the West and
hospitals are now nearly universal. Yet the concept of providing all
care free-of-charge is far less common. The example of
Christianity set by this medieval institution seemed like a particularly
appropriate topic for an entry here in the Christmas Season.
To fully appreciate just how innovative and charitable the Hospitaller were one must bear in mind that in the midst of the crusades the Hospital of St. John vow to provide medical assistance to anyone, regardless of their faith. Jews and Muslims as well as Christians of all kinds (Latins, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Jacobite, Coptic, Ethiopian etc.) — could obtain care and treatment at any Hospitaller facility — free of charge.
because many in need of
medical care were not well-enough to walk to a hospital, the
scoured the streets of city and town, collecting any in need of care.
battle, they scoured the battlefield for the wounded and dying and
them to field hospitals. The Hospitallers are, therefore, views as the
first Western institution to develop an ambulance corps. Something the
decendents of the Order still provide today.
Hospitallers also took in nursing mothers (including and especially
mothers) and abandoned children also received free care at the
the Hospital, and they provided for abandoned children. Children were
raised by foster mothers, who received payment from the Hospital -- but
were also subject to oversight to prevent abuse.
The hospitals of the Hospital were staffed by professional physicians and surgeons — again regardless of faith, so including Jewish and Muslim and Orthodox as well as Latin Christian doctors and surgeons. Each doctor had responsibility for a ward and had two trained assistants for making medicines and take lab tests and nine “servants” to feed, wash and otherwise care for the patients. (That’s a total of 12 staff members per ward.) The “servants” were the brothers and sisters of the Hospital itself, who viewed themselves as “serfs to the poor.”
Speaking of which, the flagship facilities in Jerusalem and Acre had extremely sophisticated plumbing and sewage systems. Patients took regular baths and received foot washing twice weekly. There were also multiple kitchens to enable food to be prepared in accordance with Jewish and or Muslim dietary rules or for special meals for patients with special dietary needs.
The food offered patients was lavish and extravagant by contemporary standards including white bread, fresh meat on three days a week, fish on fasting days, and a wide range of fruits and vegetables. This was, remember, in the Near East where citrus fruits, dates and plums, pomegranates, grapes, apples and pears abound.
And all for free….
All my novels set in the crusader states reflect the important role of the Hospitallers. Find out more about all these books at: https://www.helenapschrader.com/crusades.html