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The Order of St Lazarus
The Battle of Arsuf

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Leper Knights : The Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem in England, c.1150-1544


The Crusades

The Order of St Lazarus in the Latin East
The Order of St Lazarus in the Latin East
by Natalie Kohout

The First Crusade culminated with the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 and within decades new institutions military orders, were founded in the newly claimed Latin East.[1] These orders consisted of members who lived according to rules which resembled existing monastic regulations. The defining feature of these orders was that this religious way of life was combined with fighting.[2] They existed as the only authority to hold an always ready standing army. These orders also had many rights of exemption and often pursued their own policies, in effect making them a state within a state.[3] The Knights Templar, the Knights of St John and the Teutonic Order are all examples of military orders which were born out of the Latin East. However, one military order stood unique above the rest. No where else in Christendom had anyone conceived of forming a military organization which allowed lepers to join and fight. The Order of St Lazarus was a military order similar to the aforementioned ones, but it was very different in that it allowed lepers to take up military duties in its name.

Lepers have existed as a marginalized group for hundreds, if not thousands of years and this phenomenon in the Latin East is worthy of attention when one considers the medieval attitudes concerning the affliction. In Europe, a stigma with negative moral implications and severe social consequences was attached to leprosy.[4] Leprosy was seen by many, including the church as a punishment for moral failing.[5] Those diagnosed as lepers were often segregated from society for the rest of their lives and in many areas were declared legally dead.[6] There was another view of lepers which pervaded the medieval landscape in which the leper was seen as someone enduring purgatory on earth as a special reflection of Christ's suffering.[7] Overall, most medieval thinkers appeared to regard the disease of leprosy as something which degraded the individual in both a physical and a moral sense.[8] Keeping with these ideas in mind one should be able to appreciate the exceptionality of a military order of leprous knights within the crusader states, the home of Christendom's holiest city, Jerusalem. A brief history of the order, an examination of the leper hospital from which the order grew out of, and an exploration of the known military exploits shall be tackled in an attempt to illuminate the history of the only military order of leprous knights.

Any account of the Order of St Lazarus must begin with a brief look at the leper hospital from which it sprang. The origins of the leper hospital in Jerusalem are controversial and ambiguous.[9] Empress Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius (383-408), was known to have instituted a leper hospital at Jerusalem, however, this particular hospital cannot be concretely linked to the crusading period.[10] Others claim that St Basil founded the hospital in the 4th century[11], and even other possibilities such as Judas Maccabeus have been suggested.[12] The hospital existed under the protection of the Greek patriarchs of Jerusalem from 629 until 1054. From 1098 until 1187 it was under the authority of the Latin patriarchs.[13] At the time of the First Crusade it stood as one of three hospitals in the city. Collectively these hospitals, St Mary Latin, St John the Almoner and St Lazarus were known as the Hospital of Jerusalem.[14] Pilgrim accounts contemporary to the time of the crusades, place the leper hospital near the northwestern corner of the city, between the Tower of Tancred and St Stephen's Gate.[15] The hospital had a wide range of benefactors, even noble and royal patrons, these supporters included King Fulk, Queen Melisende, Baldwin III and Amalric I.[16]

The military order of St Lazarus was established sometime in the 12th century[17] to accommodate those who were diagnosed with leprosy in the crusader states.[18] By 1255 the order is known to have followed the Augustinian rule. However, it is unknown which rule the order followed prior to that.[19] Another important landmark in 1255 included recognition of the order's existence by Pope Alexander IV.[20] Their habits were black and resembled those of St John. The green cross associated with the Order of St Lazarus was not adopted until the 16th century.[21] While this order is unique in that it consisted of lepers, healthy men did serve alongside the leprous knights. As noted by Pope Alexander IV in 1255.[22] These knights with leprosy often came from other military orders after they were diagnosed.[23] The Templars decreed that a member who developed leprosy should join the Order of St Lazarus.[24] The Hospitallers stated in their rules that a member who is a leper cannot remain amongst their order.[25] Instead of simply ostracizing these leprous knights, those in the crusader states continued to utilize them, through the conduit of the Order of St Lazarus.

The Order of St Lazarus remained primarily a hospitaller order, but did take part in several battles, albeit, not very extensively nor very successfully.[26] It is uncertain when exactly the order took up military duties.[27] Most contend that the first solid evidence of military activity can be found in 1244[28], although there is a contention that a small detachment may have been present at the Battle of Hattin in 1187.[29] In October of 1244, the order participated in the battle at La Forbie, in which the forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem fought against the Khorezmians.[30] The battle was a disastrous loss for the crusaders and especially for the Order of St Lazarus since every one of its knights perished.[31] In all, over 1000 knights, some from various orders were killed.[32] During the crusade of Louis IX, knights of the order were present at the debacle at Marsuna in 1250 in which the king was captured by the Egyptians.[33] In Acre, the new capital since 1191 after Jerusalem had been lost in 1187, the Order of St Lazarus was reported to have been entrusted with the defense of a tower and a section of the wall.[34] Later when the city found itself under siege, by the Mameluks under al-Ashraf, a force of 25 knights was provided for the city's defense. Again, all of the participants of the order perished, as did the crusaders' last stronghold in the East.[35] Overall, the order's military contribution to the crusader states was nominal, compared to the other military orders, although, this hinged mainly on a lack of resources such as land and manpower.[36]

After the fall of Acre in 1291 the Order of St Lazarus was compelled to return to the properties they held in Europe.[37] Slowly the order disengaged itself from active crusading and the disease of leprosy.[38] The image of knights, afflicted by leprosy, surely in some cases literally falling apart from the ravages of the disease, was never again to be seen. In what were the crusader states archeological evidence of the order's life is nearly nonexistent. A mosque covers the site where the leper hospital stood and in Acre almost everything was destroyed. Documentation of the order's history is only sketchy at best.[39] Despite these handicaps a basic history of the Order of St Lazarus is still discernable and speaks to larger questions of the status of leprosy in the Latin East. Several theories of contributing factors concerning this special treatment of lepers in the Order of St Lazarus have been debated. The dire, persistent shortage of manpower in the crusader states may have been an aspect to take into consideration.[40] To simply ostracize a knight who happened to develop leprosy may have been argued as something unthinkable and so a role was created for them.[41] To accommodate such an environment which was so drastically different from their homeland, the crusaders had to reconcile their own customs to the new situations posed to them in the East.[42] Leprosy, in of itself, may have even been viewed differently by those dwelling in the Latin East.[43] At any rate, the Order of St Lazarus is important to take note of because of its unique contribution to history as the only order of leprous knights who performed military duties in the crusader states.

Footnotes

[1]. Hans Eberhard Mayer, The Crusades , trans, John Gillingham (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 77.

[2]. Alan Forey, "The Military Orders 1120-1312," in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades , ed. Jonathan Riley-Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 184.

[3]. Hans Eberhard Mayer, The Crusades , 78.

[4]. Saul Nathaniel Brody, The Disease of the Soul: Leprosy in Medieval Literature (London: Cornell University Press, 1974), 197.

[5]. Alexandri III Romani pontificis Opera omnia, id est epistolae et privilegia, ordine chronologico digesta , ed. Jacques-P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 200 (Paris: n.p/ 1855), col. 1294C-D; Peter Richards, The Medieval Leper and His Northern Heirs (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1977), 45.

[6]. Piers D. Mitchell, "The Evolution of Social Attitudes to the Medical Care of Those With Leprosy Within the Crusader States," Lépreux et sociabilité du Moye aux Temps modernes 11 (2000): 21.

[7]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights: The Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem in England, c.1150-1544 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2003), 6.

[8]. James, Brodman, Charity and Welfare: Hospitals and the Poor in Medieval Catalonia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 74.

[9]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights, 6; Adrian J. Boas, Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades: Society, Landscape and Art in the Holy City Under Frankish Rule (London : Routledge, 2001), 28.

[10]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights , 7.

[11]. Gerard A. Lee, Leper Hospitals in Medieval Ireland: With a Short Account of the Military and Hospitiller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996), 65; Adrian J. Boas, Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades, 28.

[12]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights , 7.

[13]. Gerard A. Lee, Leper Hospitals in Medieval Ireland , 66.

[14]. Adrian J. Boas, Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades , 28.

[15]. Anonymous, The City of Jerusalem, trans. C.R. Conder, The Library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society Vol. VI (New York, AMS Press, 1971), 16; Theoderich, Description of the Holy Places, trans. Aubrey Stewart, The Library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society Vol. V (New York: AMS Press, 1971), 43.

[16]. Adrian J. Boas, Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades , 29; David Marcombe, Leper Knights, 10.

[17]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights, 12; Hans Eberhard Mayer, The Crusades, 80; J.M.Upton-Ward, trans., The Rule of the Templars: The French Text of the Order of the Knights Templar (Rochester: Boydell Press, 1997), 115.

[18]. Piers Mitchell, "The Archaeological Approach to the Study of Disease in the Crusader States, as Employed at Le Petit Gerin," in The Military Orders . Volume 2, ed. Helen Nicholson (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 1998), 49.

[19]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights , 9.

[20]. Gerard A. Lee, Leper Hospitals in Medieval Ireland, 68; David Marcombe, Leper Knights, 12; J.M.Upton-Ward, trans., The Rule of the Templars , 115.

[21]. Desmond Seward, The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders (London: Eyre Methuen, 1972), 33.

[22]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights , 14.

[23]. Adrian J. Boas, Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades , 29; David Marcombe, Leper Knights, 13.

[24]. J.M.Upton-Ward, trans., The Rule of the Templars , 118.

[25]. E.J. King, The Rule Statutes and Customs of the Hospitallers 1099-1310 , With Introductory Chapters and Notes, London: Methuen & CO. LTD., 1934.

[26]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights , 247; Desmond Seward, The Monks of War, 33.

[27]. Jonathan Phillips, "The Latin East 1098-1291," in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades , ed. Jonathan Riley-Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 186.

[28]. Hans Eberhard Mayer, The Crusades , 80.

[29]. Desmond Seward, The Monks of War , 45.

[30]. Alan Forey, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades . 195.

[31]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights, 13-14; Desmond Seward, The Monks of War , 67.

[32]. Jonathan Phillips, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades , 138.

[33]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights , 14.

[34]. Piers D. Mitchell, "The Evolution of Social Attitudes to the Medical Care of Those with Leprosy within the Crusader States," Lépreux et sociabilité du Moye aux Temps modernes 11 (2000): 25.

[35]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights, 15, Desmond Seward, The Monks of War , 81.

[36]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights , 30.

[37]. Ibid ., 247.

[38]. Ibid ., 22.

[39]. Ibid ., 25.

[40]. Ibid ., 13.

[41]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights , 11.

[42]. Jonathan Phillips, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades , 119.

[43]. David Marcombe, Leper Knights , 6.

References

Primary:

Alexandri III Romani pontificis Opera omnia, id est epistolae et privilegia, ordine chronologico digest . Ed. Jacques-P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 200. Paris: n.p., 1855.

Anonymous. The City of Jerusalem. Trans. C.R. Conder. The Library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society Vol. VI . New York, AMS Press, 1971.

King, E.J. The Rule Statutes and Customs of the Hospitallers . London: Methuen & CO. LTD., 1934.

Theoderich. Description of the Holy Places. Trans. Aubrey Stewart. The Library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society Vol. V. New York: AMS Press, 1971.

Upton-Ward, J.M.Trans. The Rule of the Templars: The French Text of the Order of the Knights Templar. Rochester: Boydell Press, 1997.

Secondary:

Boas, Adrian J. Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades: Society, Landscape and Art in the Holy City under Frankish Rule . London : Routledge, 2001.

Brodman, James. Charity and Welfare: Hospitals and the Poor in Medieval Catalonia . Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Forey, Alan. "The Military Orders, 1120-1312." In The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades , ed. Jonathan Riley-Smith, 184-216. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Lee, Gerard A. Leper Hospitals in Medieval Ireland: With a Short Account of the Military and Hospitiller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem . Dublin: Four Courts Press Ltd., 1996.

Marcombe, David. Leper Knights: The Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem in England , c.1150-1544. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2003.

Mayer, Hans Eberhard. The Crusades . Trans. John Gillingham. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Mitchell, Piers D. "The Evolution of Social Attitudes to the Medical Care of Those With Leprosy Within the Crusader States," Lépreux et sociabilité du Moyen aux Temps modernes 11 (2000): 21-27.

Mitchell, Piers. "The Archaeological Approach to the Study of Disease in the Crusader States, as Employed at Le Petit Gerin." In The Military Orders . Volume 2, ed. Helen Nicholson, 43-50. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 1998.

Phillips, Jonathan. "The Latin East, 1098-1291." In The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades , ed. Jonathan Riley-Smith, 112-140. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Richards, Peter. The Medieval Leper and His Northern Heirs . Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1977.

Seward, Desmond. The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders . London: Eyre Methuen, 1972.

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Copyright © 2005 Natalie Kohout .

Written by Natalie Kohout   If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Natalie Kohout at: boudiccaswrath@gmail.com.

About the author:
Natalie Kohout is originally from southern California, but currently resides in Michigan. She graduated in 2005 from the California State University of Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in history and a minor in anthropology. She plans on attending a school in Michigan for her masters. Medieval Europe is her chosen area of study with a special interest in lepers and their interaction within medieval society.

Published online: 08/23/2005.
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