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Vartan of Nazareth: Missionary and Medical Pioneer in the 19th c Middle East

Vartan of Nazareth: Missionary and Medical Pioneer in the 19th c Middle East


Vartan of Nazareth: Missionary and Medical Pioneer in the Nineteenth-century Middle East, is the little-known story of a medical pioneer and missionary who founded a hospital in Nazareth 150 years ago. This book traces the remarkable life of Pacradooni Kaloost Vartan, the son of a poor Armenian tailor in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Born in 1835 at a time of great change in the Ottoman Empire, the young Vartan attended the first American missionary school in the imperial city. He left school to join the British Army as an interpreter in the Crimea and, having witnessed the rigours of battlefield medicine, he was drawn to a career as a surgeon and physician. The book recounts the story of his time in Edinburgh as a missionary medical student, his marriage to Mary Anne, a daughter of the Manse and, with the ink hardly dry on the marriage certificate, the young couple's departure for Palestine.


The book is rich in descriptions of nineteenth-century Nazareth: the plight of people whose remedies amounted to old wives' tales, village bone-menders and leeches to bleed the afflicted; the doctor's struggle to overcome local prejudice and aversion to Evangelical missionaries. The Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society sponsored Vartan's work in Nazareth and his quarterly reports to headquarters in Edinburgh preserve a vivid picture of his hard work to establish the hospital. The Vartans were not immune to tragedy. Five of their ten children died in infancy; they are buried with their siblings and parents in the graveyard on the edge of the hospital compound. The Vartans visited Jerusalem as the Holy City became the focus of huge pilgrimage traffic.


Lavishly illustrated, Vartan of Nazareth features contemporary photographs taken by royal engineers for the Palestine Exploration Fund, including one taken by the young officer who would become famous as 'Kitchener of Khartoum'. Photographs of the Vartan family, and of day-to-day activities at the hospital where patients with gunshot wounds would arrive by camel, contribute to this unique historical record. The book also tells of Vartan's legacy after his death in 1908 and follows the development of the hospital through the turbulent times of the First World War, the British Mandate and the birth of modern Israel. Against all odds the hospital survived. It is still registered in Scotland and, in a remarkable link with the past, the founder's great grand-son, John Vartan, is actively involved. 


Malcolm BIllings has spent most of his career broadcasting and producing Radio 4 and BBC World Service programmes. He presented the Today programme during the 1970s. He has also contributed from many parts of the world to Radio 4 From Our Correspondent and was producer and presenter of the BBC World Service Heritage programme for 15 years. Other of his publications include: The Crusades, the War Against Islam, 1096–1798 (2006);Queen's College: 150 Years and a New Century (2000); London: A Companion to its History and Archaeology (1994); The English: The Making of a Nation From 430–1700 (1991); The Cross and the Crescent: A History of the Crusades (1988).


The book is published to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Nazareth Hospital.

  • Malcolm Billings

    Autumn 2012

    200 pages, hardback

    260 x 216 mm, 170 illus.
    ISBN: 978 1 907372 43 8

  • In the press

    "Explores the life of the little-known doctor and missionary whose work has had such lasting impact on medical care in the Middle East." —The Times


    "Reinstates Vartan to his rightful place in history." —Daily Mail 


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