Photo Credit: Anastasia Prokofyeva
The assemblage of drawn coats of arms discovered on the hospital's walls.

In an original research model executed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, British royal and nobility coats-of-arms were mapped and identified on the walls of an early 20th-century hospital in Jerusalem. Greetings from famed British historical figures were found, including King George V, and the founder of the iconic Irish beer – Edward Cecil Guinness.

While studying the coats-of-arms, left by the elite British families that contributed to the British ophthalmologic hospital building’s expansion, IAA’s Shai Halevy and Michael Chernin successfully deciphered historical moments in one of modern Jerusalem’s first hospital buildings.

Shai Halevy and Michael Chernin of the Israel Antiquities Authority during the research on the coats of arms. / Israel Antiquities Authority

The expansive structure directly overlooks the Valley of Hinnom, and sits across from Mount Zion, near the Old City walls. Over the years the hospital building became the “Jerusalem House of Quality,” an art and culture exhibition center. On Thursday, June 20, a new exhibition will open there, funded by the Jerusalem Foundation, the Jerusalem House of Quality, and other donors, presenting the coats of arms and results of the research. The exhibition is open to the public free of charge until July 2.

The ophthalmologic hospital was founded in 1882 by the Order of Saint John (who viewed themselves as continuing the ancient Crusader Hospitaller order). The only one of its kind in that era, the hospital played a pivotal role in healing the eye diseases common in the Holy Land and Jerusalem and served anyone who needed help. Patients came here from around the Middle East, and the British Mandate period saw the hospital expand significantly, adding a wing on the other side of Hebron Road.

Michael Chernin of the Israel Antiquities Authority pointing at the coat of arms at the entrance to the hospital. / Israel Antiquities Authority

The expansion was enabled thanks to the generous contributions of British royalty and businesspeople, many of whom were Order of Saint John members. As a sign of thanks for supporting this construction, tens of individual coats of arms adorned the walls.

king George V’s coat of arms. / Anastasia Prokofyeva

The tumultuous events of World War I and the 1948 War of Independence left their marks on different parts of the complex. As the decades progressed, different building elements became repurposed: the eastern wing became the Mount Zion Hotel, while the western wing became the Jerusalem House of Quality. As time passed, the public forgot about the coats of arms, and many were damaged or destroyed.

Guinness Irish brewery founder Edward Cecil Guinness’ coat of arms. / Anastasia Prokofieva

Just recently, a pair of IAA researchers, photographer Shai Halevy and archaeologist Michael Chernin succeeded in deciphering the coats of arms that survived. They were joined by illustrator Anastasia Prokofieva. The team identified 18 out of the 23 visible insignias, which belonged to British nobility. The coats of arms include King George V (ruled 1910-1936); Major General Aldred Lumley, 10th Earl of Scarbrough (1857-1945); the famous Irish brewery magnate Edward Cecil Guinness (1847-1927); the architect who specialized in high-rise buildings, Henry Busis (1881-1965); and shipbuilder Henry Grayson (1865-1951).

There’s also the shield of Jewish aristocrat Sir Edward Stern (1854-1933), uncle of philanthropist Vera Salomons, the founder of the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem.

The artist Anastasia Prokofyeva with her illustrated coats of arms. / Israel Antiquities Authority

Dr. Amit Re’em, IAA Jerusalem Regional Archeologist, said, “During the ongoing major Mount Zion Hotel renovation project, a dedication inscription suddenly appeared attributed to John Mason Cook, a great contributor to the hospital. He and his father were the founders of the world’s first modern travel company, which is still in business today – the famed Thomas Cook & Son.”

“Exploring the other abandoned rooms of the former hospital revealed another dedication, of a woman named Genevieve Watson, a well-known Jerusalem personality and generous benefactor, who dedicated the remainder of her life and her wealth to the service of the hospital,” Dr. Re’em added. “The IAA archaeologists also discovered a stone with a mysterious inscription cast in the Hinom Valley below the hotel. It turns out this was the hospital’s cornerstone.”

The results of the IAA archaeologists’ investigations, which include photographs of the coats of arms, colored reproductions of each one, and biographical sketches of each owner, along with new archaeological finds from the site and other discoveries, will all be presented in the exhibition.

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