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Thursday, 30 July 2015

Early hospitals and hospices

One of the influences of the rise of Christianity was the amount of hospitals and hospices that were founded in the last years of the Roman Empire. These were in the main wards for the sick and dying, which were included in the monasteries that were being built to house the newly founded orders.

Many Christians were called to dedicate their lives to serve the sick and dying in these places. These hospitals and hospices were generally modest and often short-lived, with around 10 to 12 beds and a couple of brothers or sisters in charge.

As a result of the world-wide plague epidemics of the 6th and 7th centuries from which an estimated 100 million world-wide perished, institutions such as the Hôtel Dieu in Paris were founded under the direction of the Roman Catholic Church. Others were established by pious bequest under the rule of regular religious orders.

In these hospitals more attention was given to the well-being of the patient's soul than to curing bodily ailments. In major cities, the hospitals became more established. For instance by 600 AD, there were some hospitals in Constantinople that had sufficiently grown to offer separate wards for men and women, and specialized rooms for surgical patients or for those with eye problems.

By the twelfth century in Western Europe the growth of population and increasing urbanization meant a growing need for the provision of hospitals. Increasingly whilst the well to do were all treated at home, the sick poor were cared for in a hospital attached to the local poor house, monastery or convent. Many of the Benedictines, in particular felt called to minister and they are believed to have founded over 2,000 hospitals during the Middle Ages.

Hospital nursing remained as part of the Christian service provided by religious orders, but the priority was ensuring that patients died in a state of grace, having received the sacraments, rather than attempting to cure the sickness, which was probably either a punishment for sin, or a test of faith. 

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