The Infirmary                      
The infirmary at any monastery served as a place to care for the sick, the elderly, and those who needed rest. Medicines and special foods were provided, but much more importantly, the infirmary served as a place where the seriously ill monk or nun would receive assistance in preparing their soul for death. Care of the infirm and sick was considered of the highest moral importance, and, in Christ’s example of His own care of the weak and sick, the abbot himself was instructed to visit the ailing every day to comfort and encourage them, as well as to make sure that their needs were being properly met.

(Monasteries also often founded and supported hospitals near to the monastery (but not within the cloister) for permanently disabled, or elderly poor men. These hospitals could also serve as places of temporary rest. Christ’s commandment ‘that which you do to the least of them you do also unto me’ was seen as a moral duty above all others, that the sick should be cared for, soothed, and comforted.)


Additionally, the infirmary was a place to support recuperation and relaxation. Under the guidance of the Infirmarian, the duties and responsibilities of the communal life could be relaxed a little and those suffering from a ‘weariness’ brought on by the strictures of the Rule and the observance of the Hours could find calm and return to their duties with renewed devotion. Some think that this is why the tradition of regular bleeding endured in monasteries, because the four days rest it offered were welcomed as a chance to rest.

For those who required an emotional rest (perhaps suffering from depression, or other form of emotional or intellectual fatigue) or for those where were to rest after being blooded (see CALEFACTORY), while they were under the care of the infirmarian, they usually did not stay in the infirmary. The remedy for both emotional weariness and ritual bleeding was quiet rest, opportunity for reflection, and, in the case of the weary, walks in the open air. As such these patients remained in the dorter. Their duties, however, were eased, and repose in the Chapter House, Calefactory or dorter was encouraged.  Those who had been blooded took their meals in the misericorder, the infirmary frater (or dining room).

The infirmary also served as a retirement community for monks who were no longer able to keep up their duties to the house, because they had slipped into weakness, senility, or dementia (and so could not keep silent). Though the elderly monks were still required to keep the rule as they were able, things were easier and primary importance was placed on their spiritual needs and bodily comfort. As such, the Infirmary could become a community within a community. It had its own frater (dining room) called the misericorde, an attached chapel for celebrating Mass and reciting the Hours, and was supplied by its own kitchens, which produced easily digestible foods (such as bread soaked in mares milk), and foods to strengthen those who had been blooded.


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