The Knights Hospitallers of Toulouse

The origin of the religious military order of the Knights Hospitallers called also the Knights Hospitallers of Saint Jean de Jerusalem, the oldest Order of Christian Chivalry, (known since 1530 as Knights of the Order of Malta and not to be confused with their more “glamorous” cousins The Templers) is to be found in the 11th century in Jerusalem where they were initially a monk brotherhood running a hospital named after Saint Jean the Baptist, located not far from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The hospital tended to the pilgrims that were coming to the Holy Land who were not only receiving, like in any medical establishment, health care but also accommodation and in the case of the poorer ones alms, that enabled them to pay the taxes required by the Moslem landlords to visit the Holy Places.
In 1099 the Holy City fell to the crusader armies and the importance of the brotherhood was recognized by one of the crusade leaders Godefroy de Buillon who bestowed upon Brother Gerard Tunc, the Hospitallers master, the lordship of Montboire, a property in Brabant (the nowadays Belgium). De Buillon example was followed by other Christian princes and in a short time span the brotherhood became the owner of numerous possessions both in the Holy Land and in Europe.
It was Brother Gerard, the first Hospitaller master (he died in 1120), who during the same period of time instituted the order’s simple black surcoat decorated with a white eight-pointed cross – known now Maltese cross – at the heart, and also aligned order’s daily life to with Rule of St. Augustine.
In 1113 the Pope Pascal II confirmed all the donation made to the Hospitallers, allowed them to choose their own leaders and exempted them from paying taxes.
The order grew considerably during the first part of the 12th century and achieved recognition throughout Europe.
In The first mentions of Hospitallers in Toulouse date from 1110.
They could establish themselves here thanks to the donations made by the Count of Toulouse family who bestows to Brother Gerard, the Hospitaller’s Master, in 1115 the Saint Remi church – a primitive church built probably in the middle of the first millennium of the Christian era – and its neighboring land on the old street of Dalbade and later in 1140 more land is offered in the same part of the town (some of the members of the Toulouse family, like Pierre de Toulouse and his daughter Blanche de Toulouse, were later interred in the Brotherhood’s cemetery).
All along the 12th century the Hospitallers community in Toulouse (now tending mainly to poor and sick of the town and to the pilgrims on the way to Saint James de Compostele) organizes itself – a priory is established here in 1150 – even though the number of knights does not grow substantially and at the end of the century they add up to no more then ten.
In 1315 the Hospitallers of Toulouse community is elevated to the dignity of a “Grand Priory”. After the fall of the Templers in 1312 the Order takes over some of the latter properties – a process that lasts almost 2 decades and enriches the Hospitallers – including the ones of Toulouse who start around 1330 a series of building projects.
In the 14th century the Hospitallers’ establishment on the Dalbade street of Toulouse was consisting of the Saint Remi church, the Hospitallers dwellings, a cloister, a tower that was acting as a relic and document repository, a cemetery where the Brothers as well as layman donors were buried, as well as seven shops that were opening to the street proof of the economical activity of the monk community.
During the 15th and the 16th century the Toulouse Hospitallers status rises. Their leader, the Grand Prieur, controls a territory that matches now almost all south west of France. His prestige is such that when he visits the Capitouls (the Toulouse town administration council) the courtesies extended match the ones of a King Representative. By contrast the Hospitallers quarters on Dalbade street, built centuries ago mainly of wood panels, were showing the signs of time decay and the many fires that did ravage the town in the Middle Ages.
In this context in the beginning of the second half of the 17th century a major reconstruction project takes place under the command of the Grand Prieur Paul Antoine de Robin-Graveson.
The reconstruction concerned the buildings facing the Dalbade street and it is then that the new portal, reception room, and the chapter room – all of which can be seen today – were built (at the same time the cloister is demolished and the cemetery abandoned).
During the revolution times the complex is abandoned by the Knights and buildings are sold to a curtain dealer, who sets up here a curtain warehouse and who destroys in the process all the archives. In 1839 Saint Remi church is also destroyed.
In 1996 the building complex is listed as a historic monument by the Ministry of Culture of France (it houses today the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles de Midi-Pyrenees).
The Hospitallers Quarters of Toulouse can be visited only once a year during the national “Journées de Patrimoine” on the third weekend of September.
Unfortunately the only remaining vestiges from the beginning of settlement of the Knight in Toulouse are the 2 graves that can only be seen from a side and through a glass window.

*Related Article: Aveyron Templers’ Towns

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