Located next to the Church of Our Lady,the Old St. John's Hospital is one of Europe's oldest surviving hospital buildings. The hospital grew during the Middle Ages and was a place where sick pilgrims and travellers were cared for. The site was later expanded with the building of a monastery and convent.
At the time of its foundation its function was not limited to the health function but it also was a place where travellers could find shelter or the needy (in the broad sense of the word) could find help. So at that time it was more a guesthouse than a clinic. Gradually it evolved to a real hospital in the meaning we know now and it remained a working clinic until 1978 when a new modern hospital was built outside the town center. Nowadays it has a museum function and is a venue for exhibitions, congresses and other events.
There are so many interesting items to see here. A very large variety of instruments used in the early days of surgery. A must visit to every visitor.
The hospital was founded in the 12th century. The oldest remaining parts date back to the 13th and 14 century, making it one of the oldest health care institutions that still exist. The medieval hospital halls show a mix of romanesque and gothic architecture. In the course of the years, the hospital continued to grow and by the 19th century it was enlarged by the construction of a new complex in neoclassical style. Patients were treated in this new complex until the 70's of the last century. By that time, the new modern hospital AZ Sint-Jan outside the center was ready.
The oldest part of the complex now serves as museum where you can learn more about the life in the old hospital. There is also an exhibition on one of Flanders' most famous artists (Flemish Primitives): Hans Memling. While there, don't forget to have a good look at the monumental roof.
I could spend all day here, its a beautiful building, one of the oldest hospitals in existence, with an original Apoteek, (Chemist) in situ.
The St Ursula Shrine was the first Memling work to be identified as such in a historical text. Although commissioned for St John's Hospital, it has neither an inscription nor a signature. This might be explained by the fact that the shrine was not on permanent display, but was shown only on the feast-day of St Ursula. Memling's care for detail and constant concern for harmony are part of his predilection for a classical style. These aspects of his art are given their finest expression in the St Ursula Shrine. Memling was commissioned to decorate a new reliquary, to which the saint's remains were to be transferred on 21 October 1489 during a grand ceremony in the chancel of the church of the hospital of St John.
Don't leave Bruges without seeing this old hospital converted into a museum, particularly the stunning Memling paintings.