At Crusader-themed French Hospital, Patients Of All Faiths Find Joy Amid Their Suffering
Paintings by French baron who established Le Hȏpital Saint-Louis were recently rediscovered, as it continues more than a century of medical care.
French Baron Amadeus Marie Paul de Piellat was born in 1852. Along with the intense Christian education he received as he was growing up, de Piellat became enamored — some say obsessed — with the Crusades and the people who led their exciting campaigns.
In 1874, after joining a Catholic religious order, de Piellat made his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was then that he visited Jerusalem’s only Catholic hospital, which consisted of three vastly overcrowded rooms within the Latin Patriarchate inside the Old City walls. Appalled at its terrible conditions, he bought land on the spot where a Lazarist leper’s hospital had operated in the 12th century. Coincidentally, or not, this was also the spot on which the Crusaders had camped in 1099 before breaching Jerusalem’s city wall.
Le Hȏpital Saint-Louis, designed in what architect David Kroyenker calls Baroque Renaissance style, was named for King Louis IX of France. De Piellat himself decorated the interior walls of the French Hospital, covering the wards with the brightly colored coats of arms belonging to Crusader families. Indeed, when he died in 1925 — at the hospital — de Piellat was deeply involved in restoring those earlier paintings, for the Turks who had been in control of the country before World War I had covered the crosses over with black paint.
Last year, a water pipe burst in the hospital storeroom, and during the clean-up, the nuns discovered some hitherto unknown Crusader paintings by de Piellat. By chance, says hospital director Monika Duellmann, experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority happened to be in the building, located near the Old City’s New Gate, next to City Hall. Excited, they promptly dispatched an expert to explain the art of cleaning the walls without damaging the newly discovered decorations: paintings by de Piellat depicting Crusader towns in the Land of Israel.