(Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority / Yoli Shwartz)
Archaeologists have restored parts of a giant 11th century hospital from the time of the Crusaders that held 2,000 beds and was ran by the St. John of the Hospital order in Jerusalem.
"This was where the members of the St. John of the Hospital order lived. This is where it started. This was the first place where they used an ambulatory service to bring in sick and wounded people to the hospital. They had riders on camels and horses," said Amit Re'em, excavation co-director for the Israel Antiquities Authority, according to Catholic News Service.
As noted on the National Geographic website, the hospital is the largest of its era to be discovered in the Middle East region.
The hospital was dedicated to John the Baptist, and treated people of all faiths passing through Jerusalem. The site was buried after an earthquake brought it down in 1457, and it was not until 13 years ago when the Antiquities Authority was called to do excavation work prior to a planned construction of a restaurant that it resurfaced.
The Antiquities Authority explained that the structure stands more than six meters (19.7 feet) high and is characterized by massive pillars and ribbed vaults.
"We've learned about the hospital from contemporary historical documents, most of which are written in Latin. These mention a sophisticated hospital that is as large and as organized as a modern hospital," Re'em and Renee Forestany of the Antiquities Authority added.
"The hospital was established and constructed by a Christian military order named the 'Order of St. John of the Hospital in Jerusalem' and known by its Latin name the Hospitallers (from the word hospital). These righteous warriors took an oath to care for and watch over pilgrims, and when necessary they joined the ranks of the fighters as an elite unit."
The building was separated by wings and departments that treated different conditions, much like a modern hospital. Its 2,000 bed capacity made it one of the biggest in the region. According to the documents, the Hospitallers attended to men and women from different faiths, and accommodated them based on their specific needs – for example they would see that food given to Jewish patients was kosher.
Documents note that doctors were not well educated in medicine, however, and depended on the Muslim Arab physicians who were famous throughout the medical field to teach them important aspects about properly taking care of patients.
The massive structure also apparently served as an orphanage, and a number of abandoned newborns were brought to its doors. The orphans were well taken care of and would often join the military order when they became adults.
"The magnificent building will be integrated in a restaurant slated to be constructed there, and its patrons will be impressed by the enchanting atmosphere of the Middle Ages that prevails there," said Monser Shwieki, the project manager. "The place will be open to the public later this year."