By Duncan McAra

In 2017 the St John Ophthalmic Association (SOA) was established by ophthalmic practitioners across the world to support the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group. The purpose of the Association is to broaden the ophthalmic expertise available to St John and its staff. In April 2017 the SOA held its first scientific congress in Jerusalem. On 4-6 September, the SOA held its 2019 Hospital Summit, with the Prior and Hospitaller making a return visit to represent St John Scotland.

Earlier in the summer, on 2 July, the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group had been awarded the Joint Commission International (JCI) re-accreditation for quality of care and patient safety, having initially received accreditation in 2013. JCI recognition is considered the gold standard for healthcare worldwide. Accreditation will be reassessed in 2022, which coincidentally will mark the 140th anniversary of the St John Eye Hospital’s foundation.

Eye examination at St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital

And how appropriate that in October 2016 the Holy Family Hospital, the maternity hospital in Bethlehem managed by the Order of Malta, signed an agreement with the Order of St John to enhance the provision by the St John Eye Hospital of a walk-in clinic, and mobile Old City School Screening Project, providing  primary and emergency eye care for residents and tourists in the Muristan district of Jerusalem – the location of the original twelfth-century hospital run by the Knights Hospitaller.

The ghost of the thirteenth-century oculist, Benvenutus Grassus of Jerusalem, must doubtless be murmuring his wonderment and approbation.

Against this background of ophthalmological advancements and international charitable and professional cooperation, I have been extending the stock of journal articles and books on ophthalmology in general and the St John Eye Hospital in particular. I hope that the reading list below will be of interest to ophthalmologists and optometrists, and stimulate their curiosity to learn more about one of the Order of St John’s two chief foundations.

 Reading list:

  • Abu-Rabia A. Indigenous practices among Palestinians for healing eye diseases and inflammations. Dynamis 2005;25:388-401.
  • Anon. St John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem. British Medical Journal 1939;1(4086):889.
  • Banayot RG. A retrospective analysis of eye conditions among children attending St John Eye Hospital, Hebron, Palestine. BMC Research Notes [BioMed Central] 2016;9(202).
  • Bartisch G: Ophthalmodouleia: Das ist Augendienst [a treatise on the service of the eyes], facsimile edition of 1583 original, Editions Medicina Rara, Stuttgart & Boston, Mass., n.d. [but c. 1970].
  • Bartisch G. Ophthalmodouleia, trans. Donald Blanchard, J.-P. Wayenborgh, Ostend, Belgium, 1996. Produced in the same style and format as the 1583 original, with the same woodcuts and layered illustrations.
  • Blum N, Fee E. The St John Eye Hospital: A Bridge for Peace. American Journal of Public Health 2009;99(1):32-3.
  • Chignell A: The St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital: A Personal Account of the years 2002-2008, Order of St John: London; 2008.
  • Eldredge LM. A thirteenth-century ophthalmologist, Benvenutus Grassus: his treatise and its survival. Journal of the Royal College of Medicine 1998;91(1):47-52.
  • Hardaker P. A sight for sore eyes: The St John Eye Hospital of Jerusalem. St John History: Proceedings of the St John Ambulance Historical Society of Australia 2012;12:40-6.
  • Hume EE: Medical Work of the Knights Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem. The Johns Hopkins Press: Baltimore; 1940.
  • Keeler R. Antique ophthalmic instruments and books: The Royal College Museum. British Journal of Ophthalmology Pt.I 2002;86(6):602-3; Pt.II 2002;86(7):712-14.
  • Keeler R, Dua HS. The Eye in History. Laboratoires Théa: Clermont-Ferrand; 2019. A superbly illustrated compilation of articles on Instruments, Books and Individuals that shaped the course of Ophthalmology.
  • MacCallan M: Light out of Darkness: A biography of Arthur Ferguson MacCallan, the trachoma pioneer. 2 ed. The Choir Press: Gloucester; 2013.
  • Miller SJH: Ten Years as Hospitaller: The Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem, 1981-1990. Grand Priory of the Order of St John: London; 1990.
  • O’Shea JG. A History of the St John Ophthalmic Hospital, Jerusalem. Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 1997;27:603-10.
  • O’Shea JG. The St John Ophthalmic Hospital: a medical ambassador in Jerusalem. Eye 1999;13:270-2.
  • Reifler D: Days of Ticho: Empire, Mandate, Medicine and Art in the Holy Land. Gefen Publishing House: Jerusalem; 2015.
  • Spivey BE. The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem: Providing Eye Care Where None Exists. Scope [American Academy of Ophthalmology] 2019;23:1-4.
  • Talbot JF. The foundation of the St John Eye Hospital, Jerusalem. St John History: Proceedings of the St John Ambulance Historical Society of Australia, 2010-2011;10:35-48. Reprinted as a St John Historical Society Publication: London; 2011.
  • Thackray J. The pilgrim healers of Palestine. Church Times 19 December 2014.
  • Verity, David. The St John Eye Hospital Group: Historic Order, Modern Hospital. Apothecary: Journal of the Worshipful Society of  Apothecaries of London 2013:28-34.
  • Wheeler JR. History of Ophthalmology Through the Ages. British Journal of Ophthalmology 1946;30(5):264-75.


Duncan McAra CStJ is Librarian of the Priory of Scotland of the  Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.

Reprinted courtesy of St John Scotland.