Renewed excavation at Montfort Castle, a Crusader fortress in modern northern Galilee, dating to the thirteenth century, has discovered a previously unknown, massive Gothic hall in which survives the remains of medieval grisaille-painted stained glass. These recent findings follow on from work in 2017 that first demonstrated the comparatively luxurious and wealthy lifestyle enjoyed by the German crusaders who constructed the isolated castle on the edges of the Christian world.
Monfort was built on land purchased by the Teutonic Order in the 1220s, with construction beginning towards the end of the same decade, and became the Order’s principal castle in the Holy Land. Excavation has taken place at the castle since 2011, and previously revealed a three-storey structure, comprising cellars at its lowest level, a Great Hall in the middle, and, at its highest level, highly-decorated, luxurious domestic apartments, thought possibly to have served as the residence of the Grand Master, Supreme Commander of the Teutonic Order. These also contained stained glass remains.
During further, recent, work in the same area, the outline of a barrel vault extending away from the previously-discovered structure. “We knew there was a structure extending out here but did not suspect it was a major building,” explained Prof. Adrian Adrian Boas, president of the Society for the Study of the Crusaders and the Latin East, who led the work incorporating vaulted rooms, gilded wood, richly painted walls and stained glass. “But when we excavated beyond it, we found in the debris evidence of a two-storey building with Gothic architecture and grisaille-decorated stained glass, obviously highly beautiful and decorated.” (Fig. 1)
The newly-discovered Gothic Hall predates the castle’s Great Hall, which is similar in architectural plan, but around half its size. It has been suggested that the Gothic Hall may have served as the original ceremonial hall, but as the order grew in wealth, a grander Great Hall was constructed.
This discovery emphasises the order’s material wealth, and the splendour of Monfort, which, in its upper levels in particular, is noteworthy amongst Crusader castles in the Holy Land. The castle was, however, ultimately short-lived. Increasingly an island in Muslim territory, the castle fell on 23rd June, 1271 after a siege of just 15 days. By July 4th, it lay destroyed and abandoned; never reoccupied but, now, at least in part, redis-covered.