Templars and Hospitallers as Professed Religious in the Holy Land

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Templars and Hospitallers as Professed Religious in the Holy Land. By Jonathan Riley-Smith. [The Conway Lectures in Medieval Studies.] (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2010. Pp. xii, 131. $25.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-04058-1.)

Jonathan Riley-Smith, Dixie Professor Emeritus of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Cambridge, can reasonably be described as the most eminent, and almost certainly the most prolific, historian of the crusades now active in the field. He began his career a half-century ago with a PhD thesis at Cambridge on the history of the Hospitaller order, which appeared as The Knights of St. John in Jerusalem and Cyprus (London, 1967), the first of more than a dozen books.

In Templars and Hospitallers Riley-Smith returns once again to the history of the two oldest and best-known medieval military orders, whose members combined the functions of monks and knights. His earlier studies of these organizations concentrated on their constitutions and their military roles in defense of the crusader states established in the Holy Land shortly after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. In this book, however, Riley-Smith concentrates instead on their roles as religious orders.

Historians of the crusades usually treat the two military orders as if they were virtually identical. Riley-Smith, however, stresses that they were unlike each other in numerous ways.The Hospitallers originated sometime during the closing decades of the eleventh century. As their name suggests, they began as a nursing order whose members provided the best medical care available in the Holy Land. They staffed the hospital of St. John, the principal hospital of Jerusalem, as well as the Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans. Hospitallers also operated hospitals at Acre and elsewhere in the Levant, plus a few small ones in Western Europe.They cared not only for Christian patients but also for Jews and Muslims, whose dietary requirements they took pains to respect. …