Hospital Church in Limerick

Iron Gravemarker at Hospitaller Church

*Today’s blog on the Hospital Church Limerick is a guest post from Faith of¬†XYUandBEYOND.

Hubs and I were housesitting in Ireland’s Ancient East in Tipperary and we decided one day to just go for a drive and explore the back roads of the area. Well as I like to say, we went out for a drive and ended up in Hospital. Yes Hospital is a real town in East Limerick County Ireland.

Hospital lies on the River Mahore and contains the ruins of the medieval fortified church of the Knights Hospitaller and is a national monument in these parts of Ireland.


The Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar

Now I did not know this but the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar are two very different orders. The main difference is that the Hospitallers still exist and the Templars don’t.¬†

Originally, the Templars were a military order, and the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem worked on behalf of sick and injured pilgrims to the Holy Land.

Both of the orders started out as part of the crusade to protect Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The Templars got their name from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was reputed to be the site of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. The order declined after Christians were expelled from the Holy Land in the 13th century.

King Philip IV of France

King Philip IV “the Fair” of France apparently owed the order large amounts of money and land but he didn’t want to pay back the debt. The King managed to convince Pope Clement V that the Templars were committing heresy. The Pope, who was dependent upon the King for his own home in Avignon, did as he was requested and put the Templars on trial. The Pope found the Templars guilty of immorality but not heresy.

The King however, wasn’t pleased and managed to persuade the Pope to reverse his decision, as a result the Head of the Templars and his closest associates were burned at the stake and their wealth was given to a rival order. It is said that the legend of Friday the 13th¬†as unlucky comes from the persecution of the¬†Knights Templar. Friday, October 13th, 1307,¬†was the day that King Philip IV¬†of France, ordered all Templars to be rounded up and thrown in prison.

Once the Knights Templars were destroyed Pope Clement V transferred their holdings and to the Knights Hospitaller, this naturally created some bad blood between the orders and could possibly have led to the problems that arose during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381.

Knights Templar and Hospitaller

At that time the rebel leaders appeared to have sought out the Hospitallers properties vandalised them and set fire to the remains. Not only did they deliberately go after Hospitallers properties the Prior of the Hospitallers was dragged from the Tower of London with the Archbishop of Canterbury and had their heads struck off and placed on London Bridge. One captured rebel leader, when asked the reasons for the revolt, said, ‘First, and above all…the destruction of the Hospitallers.’

The Establishment and History of the Hospitallers

The order was established originally around 1070 as a nursing order in Jerusalem where, with Muslim permission, the Hospitallers managed a hospital for sick pilgrims. The Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem was established for the care of pilgrims who were journeying to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. The Hospitallers, like the Templars, took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the Pope, and they played a part in protecting religious sites and safeguarding the roads for pilgrims. They only became a formal order of knights when the city fell to the first Crusaders in 1099.

The Hospitallers garments were a black habit with a white 8-pointed Maltese cross on the chest and back. Originally, they were military and had an elected Master, the order spread quite rapidly across Europe, which is how they came to be in Ireland.

Driven out of Jerusalem by Saladin they moved to Acre, which they lost in the 1300’s. They then captured the Island of Rhodes and stayed there until 1522. They were driven out of Greece by the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. ¬†At that point, in time, the Emperor Charles V gave them the Island of Malta, and they became the Knights of Malta. The Knights successfully defended the Island against the Turks but lost to Napoleon years later.

Pope Clement V closed down the Templars in 1308, but the turn of the Hospitallers came in 1540, when the English king, Henry VIII, closed their houses during the Reformation.

The town acquired its name (Hospital) from the crusading Knights Hospitaller who built the archaeologically significant Hospital Church here before 1215. This church has the remains of three interesting medieval tombs, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries.

There is however an alternative theory that the town derived its name from a hospital for Knights Templar, founded in 1226 by Geoffrey de Marisco, then Lord-Justice of Ireland.

Hospital Church, Limerick

Architecturally the Hospital Church was built for defense and is fortified. Here is a full length view of the Hospital Church ruins:

Hospital Church Limerick ruins

Hospital Church has a prominent base batter or main course of large stones and high narrow arched windows. A tower sits at the west end of the Church with a partial barrel vault left on the second floor.

Hospital Church Limerick

In the west wall is a medieval carving of the crucifixion and on the interior of the east wall are two medieval tombs, which appear to depict a Knight, and his wife it is believed that they might be of Geoffrey de Marisco.

West Wall Carving Hospital Church Limerick

There are stairs up the side of the Church ruin that lead to a small grotto dedicated to Mary. You can view the interior of the church from this viewing platform where you can see the two effigies at the end wall. One is a Knight holding a shield, his head is on a pillow and there is a dog or hound by his feet. This probably was the top slab of a tomb which no longer exists. There is a second slab that shows a robed, bare-headed figure which many believe to be a monk holding a sword, there is some doubt because others believe it is of a woman (you cannot enter the Hospital Church to see the slabs close up) and a third slab that is believed to be that of the Knights wife Maltida.

Tombstones at Hospitaller

The ruins of the Hospital Church are free to the public and there is parking in the Church lot beside the ruins. This is a really evocative place to visit and we are delighted that we managed to stumble across a ruin that many are not aware of.

View of the Hospital Church Ruins

About the Author РFaith from XYU and Beyond 

XYUandBEYOND are Faith and Alan Рboomers who sold everything we own and now travel with a carry on each. As boomer travelers and housesitters they travel the world on a retirement budget, with the occasional splurge and hope to introduce folks to fantastic food, places, people and beautiful areas that they may never have discovered on a traditional vacation.


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