Vartan of Nazareth: Missionary and Medical Pioneer in the Nineteenth-century Middle East

200 pages, hardback, 260 x 216 mm, 170 illus.
PRICE: £25.00
ISBN: 978 1 907372 43 8


Malcolm Billings

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.

"A new book by Malcolm Billings, a BBC World Service journalist, now explores the life of the little-knoen doctor and missionary whose work has had such lasting impact on medical care in the Middle East. It is also an observation of the political and religious changes of the region, the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the settlement of Jews in Palestine." Melissa van der Klugt, in The Times, 29 September 2012
"Billings, who spent his BBC career reporting from Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the Nile Valley, was inspired to reinstate Vartan to his rightful place in history by his colleague, the veteran BBC reporter Kate Adie: 'Kate was a family of John Vartan, the missionary's great-grandson.' When Billings heard the story, he realised it was a 'damned good tale'. Jim McBeth, in the Daily Mail, October 6, 2012 

Lucca Encounters the World

Lucca's location has meant the city has always been able to adapt itself to the various historical cycles. Though undoubtedly affected by the spirit of each age, Lucca's culture and institutions remain deeply rooted in the traditions and character of its people. More

Venice: Extraordinary Maintenance

This book presents an overview of the restoration Venice has undergone in the last two hundred years. It is a mistake to think that Venice has been preserved in aspic. A great deal changed after the Fall of the Republic in 1797, and continues to change. Having read this book, you will never look upon Venice’s streets, houses and canals in the same way again. More

Building a Crossing Tower: A Design for Rouen Cathedral of 1516

Prompted by the recent discovery of an impressive three-metre tall late Gothic drawing of a soaring tower and spire, this book offers a rare insight into the processes of designing and building a major Gothic project. The drawing’s place and date of creation are unknown, and it corresponds to no surviving Gothic tower. Equally mysterious is the three-quarter, top-down perspective from which the tower is represented, without parallel in any other medieval drawings. Who drew this? When? And what did he hope to convey with his choice of a top-down representation of the tower? Building a Crossing Tower explores these questions, and uncovers the dramatic circumstances in which this drawing was created. More

Tombs of Paradise: The Shah-e Zende in Samarkand and Architectural Ceramics of Central Asia

The necropolis of Shah-e Zende at Samarkand represents a summit in the art of ceramic wall coverings in the Islamic world. Few studies have focused on the funerary ensemble of the Shah-e Zende and this is the first to describe these monuments in all the details of their decoration and its techniques and motifs, as well as the different types of ceramics used and their composition. Perched on a steep cliff overlooking the ancient city of Samarkand, today the ghost town of Afrasiyab, the necropolis remains largely unknown to art historians and certainly to the public. More

Russia: A World Apart

A haunting evocation of the ruined country estates of the Russian aristocracy of the 18th and 19th centuries. Revolution, civil war, invasion, anarchy and casual indifference have conspired against many of the grand buildings of Russia’s rich and complex past. While the architectural riches of Moscow and St Petersburg still exist for everyone to see, when the photographer Simon Marsden and author Duncan McLaren entered the Russian countryside, away from the obvious tourist trails, they encountered a very different world... More

The Science of Saving Venice OUT-OF-STOCK

The lagoon in which the city of Venice rises is no more than a few thousand years old - not much older than the city itself. And it may not last another hundred, such is the damage that not only the city but also the lagoon have suffered during the twentieth century. This book succinctly examines the severe threat from human intervention and incursions on the one hand and on the other from climate change and natural erosion, and the oprions for the future. More

John Betjeman: A Passion for Architecture OUT OF PRINT

The architectural writings, recordings and films of the poet Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) are here celebrated in this catalogue accompanying a major exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum. Marking the centenary of Betjeman's birth, the catalogue and exhibitions will bring together rare archive material, both photographic and textual, in celebration of his life-long passion for architecture. More

Lalibela: Wonder of Ethiopia: The Monolithic Churches and their Treasures

The Unesco World Heritage site of Lalibela in Ethiopia is one of the most extraordinary places in the world. It contains eleven churches, all of them hewn from the native rock in imitation of buildings. However, Lalibela and the Ethiopian kingdom remained unknown in the West until the account of the first Portugese embassy to Ethiopia was published in the 16th century. More

Brooks's 1764–2014: The Story of a Whig Club

To celebrate Brooks’s 250th anniversary, this beautiful commemorative volume looks afresh at some historical aspects and the architecture of the Whig club, and presents much original research, including essays on the club’s archives – among the most complete in Clubland – and an illustrated catalogue of the important collection of paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints, including the pictures on loan from the Society of Dilettanti. More

The Image of Venice: Fialetti's View and Sir Henry Wotton

The city of Venice holds a special place in the global imagination. This book explores the creation of one of its largest surviving depictions, which has remained almost unknown to the wider public since its creation exactly four centuries ago. Signed and dated 1611, the painting is the work of a notable early seventeenth- century Bolognese artist, Odoardo Fialetti. His huge bird’s-eye view of the watery townscape is enlivened by first-hand observation of tiny vignettes of Venetian life. Eight square metres in size, this remarkable painting is a tour-de-force among depictions of cities. More


A hugely welcome new introduction to the handsome architecture, splendid decoration, notable collections and glorious gardens of Chevening, the grand country residence used for several decades by Britain’s Foreign Secretary. More

The Comfort of The Past: Building in Oxford and Beyond 1815–2015

This groundbreaking architectural history of modern Oxford examines the stylistic dictates and historicizing whims of academic and civic patrons since 1815, demonstrating how they invariably eschewed the radical and cutting-edge in favour of ‘the comfort of the past’, using traditional idioms which lent the client status and reassurance. More

Raymond Erith

OUT OF PRINT “I am not a modernist but ... I agree with the modernists in every way except that I think their brand of modernism is not very good.” Raymond Erith looked to achieve what he called the true “economy of means”, using traditional means to create original buildings with progressive ideas behind them. More