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by Richenda Fairhurst, historyfish.net. March 2008.
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THE HOUSEHOLD AND ITS MEMBERS
(i) The Leper Household
Master.—“The guidance of souls is the art of arts,” says St.
particularly difficult is the guidance of souls in ailing bodies. Lanfranc realized that men of special gifts
should be selected for the care of his Harbledown lepers.
He not only arranged to supply all they might
need on account of the nature of their illness, but appointed men to
this work “of whose skill, gentleness and patience no one could have
serving lepers was permitted to dispense rites which did not pertain to other unbeneficed clergy ; thus the Bishop of London commanded the lepers’ chaplain at Ilford to hear their confessions, to absolve the contrite, to administer the Eucharist and Extreme Unction. The ideal man to fill the unpleasant post of lepers’ guardian as pictured in foundation deeds and statues was hard to find ; men of the type of St. Hugh and Father Damien—separated indeed by seven centuries, but alike in devotion—are rare. Two Archbishops of Canterbury witness to the scarcity in a deed referring to Harbledown (1371, 1402). After stating that clergy are required to celebrate the divine offices in St. Nicholas’ Church, the document declares :—
“It may be at present, and very likely will be in future, difficult to find suitable stipendiary priests who shall be willing to have intercourse in this way with the poor people, especially as some of these poor are infected with leprosy ; and this hospital was founded especially for sick persons of this sort.”
might himself be a
leper. An inquisition of 1223 showed
(b) The Staff.—It has been said that leper-hospitals
ecclesiastics.” There were indeed three
of alms also fell
upon the staff, for as it was said at Bridport “lepers cannot ask and
for themselves.” The procurator or
proctor therefore transacted their business. It
was ordained at St. Bartholomew’s,
(c) Attendants.—Domestic and farm service was also done by paid attendants. There were female-servants in the Sherburn leper-house, who undertook laundry and other work, and one old woman cared for the bedridden.
Inmates.—Among the larger asylums, the approximate accommodation
follows :—Harbledown 100, Sherburn 65, St. Giles’,
It has been
represented, as a
proof that isolation was non-existent, that lepers and untainted
a common life, eating and sleeping together. This
was evidently not the case. The
selves and the
themselves.” 4 The
statutes at Ilford and
Seal of the
When both sexes
they lived apart, a woman with the title of prioress being selected to
female community. Some houses were set
apart for woman, e.g. Alkmonton, Thanington,
divorce, later Norman laws considered separation unjustifiable ; this latter was the attitude of the Church, which is given fully in the Appendix to the Lateran Council of 1179.5 Yet the pathos of the leper’s lot is suggested by the declaration of Amicia, a woman of Kent in 1254—that in truth at one time she had a certain Robert for husband, but that now he had long been a leper and betook himself to a certain religious house, to wit, the leper-hospital at Romney. 6
reasons the leper-household
was most difficult to control : it is small wonder that abuses crept in. Men forcibly banished were naturally loth to
submit to rigorous discipline. These
were persons who would never have dreamed of the religious life save by
pressure of circumstances ; moreover, the nature of their infirmity
to suffer from bodily lassitude, irritability and a mental depression
upon insanity ; in the life of St. Francis is a description of his
a leper so froward, impious, abusive and ungrateful that every one
possessed by an evil spirit.
were found in haunts of vice. The master of the lazar-house had no means of enforcing control. If the leper escaped and fell into evil habits none could prevent it : indeed, this did but ensure the liberty he craved, for the ultimate punishment of inmates was expulsion.
(ii) The Household of the Infirmary and Almshouse
Master or Warden, who was also known as prior, custos,
keeper or rector, was usually a priest, but occasionally a
layman. One of the early masters of St.
It is rarely
recorded that the
custodian of the sick was a physician, but the absence of the title medicus in no way proves that he and his
helpers were ignorant of medicine. In
early days, indeed, it was only the clergy, religious or secular
‘regular,’ meaning a life regulated by strict monastic hours of service
prayer, and ‘secular’ meaning a religious life less regimented, such as
a parish priest], who were trained in the faculty, and the master and
assistants, must have acquired a certain intimacy with disease ; they
have a knowledge of the herbals, of the system of letting blood, and
simple remedies. An important medical
work, Breviarium Bartholomæi, was written
late in the fourteenth century by John Mirfield of St. Bartholomew’s,
instances the warden is
described as a physician. When the
warden are suggested by the “Articles of Inquisition touching the
“Whether he be
beningne, and louyng to the poore ; and not skoymys [squeamish] (sic)
lothesome to uisite theym or to be among theym.
--blank page, not numbered--
Plate XVII God’s House, Ewelme.]
--page not numbered--
qualifications and duties of
the head of an almshouse are defined in the minute regulation of
century founders. The master of Ewelme
must be an able and well-disposed person in body and soul, one who
counsel and exhort the poor men to their comfort and salvation. He had to conduct frequent services, and was
warned to omit none—not even “for plesaunce of lorde or lady”—save “if
let by sekenesse or prechyng of the worde of God, or by visitacion of
and modir.” The master of God’s House,
The model master did not exist only in the imagination of founders, although he occurred rarely. Among good men who are not forgotten where they fulfilled their duty, mention must be made of John de Campeden, warden and benefactor of St. Cross. His friend William of Wykeham placed him in charge of that despoiled and dilapidated institution. He ruled wisely and spent large sums upon restoration. After a faithful stewardship of twenty-eight years, his death occurred in 1410. His memorial brass
retains its place before the altar. The brasses of several wardens are also preserved at Greatham.
Staff : Brethren and Sisters.—These offices became in some cases
honorary posts ; there was no salary attached to them, but officials
supplied with food and clothing. The
at St. Katherine’s-near-the-Tower used to be given by the queen to her
ladies. Of the eight sisters at St.
The “proctor” was the financial agent of the community. He held an important post, and had occasionally an official seal. It was sometimes his duty to deliver a
charity-sermon—“to preach and to collect alms.” When the traffic in indulgences began, the proctor became a “pardoner.” (See p. 189.) Spurious agents abounded, for the post was lucrative. A man was arrested in feigning himself proctor of St. Thomas’, Canterbury ; another was convicted of receiving money, beasts, legacies and goods ostensibly for that house.9 The collector received gifts in kind, and the following appeal was put forward by St. John’s, Canterbury :—“if any one wishes to give . . . ring, brooch, gold, silver, cows, heifer, sheep, lamb or calf, let him send and deliver it to our proctor.” Sister Mariana Swetman was licensed to collect alms on behalf of that hospital (1465), an interesting instance of a woman virtually holding the office of proctor.
women have long
laboured in our infirmaries for the benefit of the sick, carrying on
works of mercy side by side with men. “The
lay sisters shall observe what we have above ordained
observed by the brethren, as far as befits their sex,” decreed
and day to help the sick and to minister to them in all things.”
The work of
women among the sick
developed further during the fifteenth century ; they evidently took a
part in the management of the larger infirmaries. A
lady, corresponding perhaps to the matron
of to-day, was in authority at
in hospital life
was confined to work by the bedside and domestic duties.
Occasionally they were found to undertake
what was not fitting. The prior of
“We command that no one of the sisters . . . or any other woman soever while divine service is being celebrated in the chapel should stand or sit in any way round or near the altars or should presume to serve the priests celebrating the
divine offices or saying the canonical hours, since, according to the first foundation of the said hospital its chaplains or priests ought to have a clerk who ought to officiate in the aforesaid matters.”
In addition to regular brethren and sisters, there were under-officials. The staff of the larger institutions included clerks in minor orders, who assisted in worship and work. In almshouses where they were no resident master, a trustworthy inmate held semi-official post. Thus at Donnington there were thirteen pensioners, and “one at their head to be called God’s minister of the poor house.” When the “tutor” at Croydon went out of doors, he ordained “oon of his fellawes moost sadde [serious] (sic) and wise to occupy his occupacion for him till he come ageyne.”
etc. Serving men
and women were employed to wait upon the infirm and upon the staff. Lanfranc ordered that the poor of
Heytesbury. The ideal woman to hold the
post is pictured in the statues of Higham Ferrers ; of good name and
quiet and honest, no brawler or chider, she should be “glad to please
poor man to her power.” She had minute directions as to housekeeping
duties which would fill the day, and in illness she must visit the
night. The keeper of the five married
couples at Ford’s hospital,
Sick and Infirm.—Having described the officials, it will be
well to form some idea of the number of the infirm to whom they
ministered. The largest establishment of
this kind was
Of pilgrim, patient and pensioner, little can be recorded. Temporary inmates came and went, receiving refreshment and relief according to their needs. Some of the resident
poor were chronic invalids, but others were not too infirm to help themselves and assist others.
attendance at prayers
certainly gave the almsfolk constant occupation, and they were required
busy at worship or work. The poor men of
Croydon were charged “to occupy themsilf in praying and in beding, in
honest talking, or in labours with there bodies and hands.” Inmates at Ewelme must be restful and
attending to prayer, reading or work ; their outdoor employment was to
clene the closter and the quadrate aboute the welle fro wedis and all
unclennesse.” (Pl. XVII.)
It was directed at Higham Ferrers that in
springtime each poor man should help to dig and dress the garden, or if
give the dressers a penny a day. In the
same way, at
-end chapter ten-
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