The Rise and Fall of The Order of Saint Lazarus During the Age of the Crusades
The Rise and Fall of
The Order of Saint Lazarus During the Age of the Crusades
Imagine yourself making the pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem but unfortunately you contract the disease leprosy, what do you do and who can you turn too? People during the time of the Crusades turned to the Order of Saint Lazarus. Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases in history; the first written reference to leprosy is from 600 B.C.; the first leper hospital being traced back to Empress Eudoxia, the wife of Arcadius1. It is a disease that affects the nerves of the extremities, the lining of the nose, and the upper respiratory tract. It is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and lepromatosis and produces skin sores, nerve damage, and muscle weakness; it can cause severe disfigurement and significant disability.2 During the time of the Crusades, the number of people inflicted with this disease was epidemic. The Order of Saint Lazarus, an order primarily caring for those inflicted with the disease Leprosy is an order that remains one of the Chivalric Orders during the Age of the Crusades that much is not known about due to the lack of documentation. In Medieval society most considered leprosy as a death sentence; people inflicted with this disease were declared legally dead. For others it was viewed more as privilege or mark of God perhaps. Those inflicted were compared to Job, the Biblical character who was loved by God but was inflicted with leprosy.3 Life for those inflicted with this disease was one of solitude. During this era this was no known cure for leprosy therefore not much could be done except for those inflicted except for offering them a place of comfort to live out their lives. The Order of Saint Lazarus did just this; the order taking in the poor and the rich alike and through their hospital they could accommodate over a thousand people at a time offering them food, clothing and shelter. The order gave some purpose back to those inflicted with this awful disease. According to documentation the site of the first leper hospital was outside the wall of Jerusalem between the Tower of Tancred and the gate of Saint Stephen4.
In tracing the order’s origins most scholars agree that the Oder of St. Lazarus appears on the scene around the mid-twelfth century in 11305, but it is a topic of debate. One of the first known written references to the order is a cistern granted to an Armenian monk named Abraham by William I of Jerusalem between the years of 1130-11456; another reference made to the Order of St. Lazarus was an account of a grant of land issued by the King of Jerusalem, King Fulk in the year 1142; this grant gave the order land in Jerusalem to take care of the miselli7; this land being situated between the Mount of Olives and the Red Cistern on the road to the River Jordon. There is however also evidence that shows that perhaps the Order of Saint Lazarus was active much earlier perhaps as early as 1099 during the reign Godfrey of Bouillon the first hospital under the leadership of Blessed Gerald gained patron protection ; then again in1106 with a charter issued by King Henry I of England.8 Further official recognition of the order came by a Bull of Pope Pascal II in 1113; this perhaps being when the Order of St. Lazarus making the transition from a group of monks taking care of the sick to a Chivalric Order under the leadership of the Blessed Gerald.9 In 1256 the order and its existence was recognized by Pope Alexander IV under the Rule of St. Augustine. It continued to receive papal support during its years of existence like those from Pope Urban IV in 1262; he released the order from episcopal control and then there was Pope Clement IV in 1265 confirmed the orders privileges and put “all” houses of the Order of St. Lazarus under the church’s protection.10 Medieval society,