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Jerusalem’s Fascinating Crusader History

September 16, 2014
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Saint-Louis Hospital, Near the old city in Jerusalem.

Wall paintings recounting the Crusader history of Jerusalem were recently exposed when the sisters of Saint-Louis Hospital, near the Old City of Jerusalem, were organizing the storerooms. In addition, a burst water pipe in the building revealed drawings that were concealed beneath modern plaster and paint. In the wake of the discovery, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) conservators came to the hospital and assisted the sisters with “first aid” in cleaning and stabilizing some of the wall paintings.

 The hospital was founded at the initiative of a French count, Comte Marie Paul Amédée de Piellat, a man of many accomplishments; an intellectual and devout Christian who visited Jerusalem a number of times in the second half of the nineteenth century, and passed away there in 1925.

The ancient landscape of the Holy Land and Jerusalem in particular, were deeply etched in de Piellat’s personality and strengthened his Christian faith. De Piellat was shocked by the meager Catholic presence in Jerusalem. The count decided to act and between 1879 and 1896 he constructed the hospital which replaced a smaller, more modest facility in the Christian Quarter inside the Old City walls. He chose to locate the hospital in the historic area where the army of the Norman king Tancred camped, before the army, together with Tancred’s allies, breached Jerusalem’s city walls in AD 1099 and vanquished the city by storm and brutality.

 De Piellat, who was also an artist, adorned the walls of the hospital and its ceiling with huge paintings portraying Crusader knights in their armor and wearing swords. Alongside these giant figures he painted the heraldry (symbols/signs) of the French knights’ families, wrote their names and noted their genealogy. He also added the symbols of the Crusader cities, symbols of the military orders and monastic orders. The sight was spectacular; the enormous halls and endless rooms of the hospital were illuminated with the Crusader history of Jerusalem.

The Turks took possession of the building during the First World War (1914–1918). They covered the breathtaking frescoes with black paint. At the end of the war the count returned to the hospital in his old age. De Piellat devoted the rest of his life to removing the black paint and re-exposing the frescoes. He passed away at the hospital in 1925.

Interest was recently renewed in the lost and concealed wall paintings when they were revealed once again in all their glory. These magnificent paintings are a piece of history and a rare work of art.

Photo Credit: Saint-Louis Hospital, Near the old city in Jerusalem.

Source: Excerpts of press release by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA)

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