The Austrian Hospice to the Holy Family is a pilgrims hostel of the Austrian Catholic Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located at the corner of Via Dolorosa and El Wad Street in the Muslim Quarter of the old city, at the 3rd station of the Way of the Cross. Founded in 1856 and opened on 19 March 1863, the hospice is the oldest national pilgrim house in the Holy Land. The Church of the Holy Family is located inside the main building.
Some Background About the Austrian Hospice
The interest of the major European powers in the Levant increased in the middle of the 19th century, after an alliance of Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia had halted the advance of the Egyptians under Muhammad Ali Pasha and brought the Ottoman province Şam back under the control of the High Gate in Istanbul. In response to the crisis in the Orient, Prussia, France, Great Britain, the Russian Tsarist Empire and the Austrian Empire began to establish the first consulates and national church institutions in the mid-1840s.
Austria opened its vice-consulate on the 1st of May 1849. In 1852, the Austrian vice-consul Josef Graf Pizzamano proposed the construction of a pilgrims’ hospital with an associated church in order to consolidate Austria’s influence as a protective power for Christians in the Middle East. The then Archbishop of Vienna, Joseph Othmar von Rauscher, took up Pizzamano’s idea and decided to build a pilgrims’ hospice with a small infirmary for pilgrims from the regions of the monarchy.
The Austrian Hospice Building History & Foundation
At the beginning of 1854, the 3956 m2 building site on the corner of Via Dolorosa and El Wad Street in the Old City of Jerusalem was acquired by Consul Pizzamano for 5,700 guldens of Austrian currency. The first plans were submitted by the renowned architect Ermete Pierotti, but the final design and execution were handed over to the architect Anton Endlicher. He traveled to Jerusalem in November 1855 together with the foremen Josef Wenz and Johann Wiltner. At the beginning of 1856, the time-consuming earthworks caused a cost explosion. Cardinal Rauscher felt compelled to make cuts in the façade design of the house.
The newly prepared construction plans were now approved and construction could begin. The construction project was financed by the Good Friday Collection and private donations. The foundation stone of the Austrian Hospice was laid on 31 December 1856. Due to various complications, the foreman Josef Wenz replaced Anton Endlicher as site manager. The 20th of October 1858 is the date of the laying of the keystone. The chapel of the hospice was solemnly consecrated by the Latin Patriarch Giuseppe Valerga and the pilgrims’ guesthouse was opened on the 19th of March 1863.
During the Habsburg Dynasty
November 1869 is one of the most important dates for the popularity of popular pilgrimages at the end of the 19th century. Emperor Franz Joseph I used his trip to open the Suez Canal for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was the first European monarch to visit the Holy Land since the end of the Crusader Empire. This visit was a highly symbolic model for the following generations of pilgrims from the monarchy.
In 1895, the curator of the House of Prelate Hermann Zschokke advocated a structural restructuring and modernization, as the character of pilgrimages had changed fundamentally towards the end of the 19th century. In order to include the Hungarian half of the Imperial and Royal Empire Monarchy, the Hungarian Stephan Csarszky was appointed as Vice-Rector and the house was renamed the Austro-Hungarian Pilgrims’ House of the Holy Family.
Four sisters of the Congregation of St. Charles Borromeo, together with a Viennese gardener, arrived in the summer of 1896 to take charge of the kitchen and the laundry. In 1898 over 500 participants set out on the First Tyrolean People’s Pilgrimage under Colonel (ret.) Heinrich Himmel from Agisburg to the Holy Land.
The Austrian Hospice is Expanding
In 1902, the number of guest beds was increased to 100 and the terrace was added, and in order to offer the sisters a retreat, the foundation stone for the sisters’ house was laid in 1903, and construction was completed in 1904.
In 1908, in the 60th anniversary year of Emperor Franz Joseph’s accession to the throne, work began on the renovation of the chapel. This extension included the two side altars of the Teutonic Order of Knights, a mosaic of the most prominent saints of the Crown Lands in the dome of the apse, new confessionals, and pews, and a new sacristy. This work lasted until 1910. In 1913 the rector Franz Fellinger, who had already been in office from 1900 to 1906, became rector of the house again. Here is a link to their website