Sunday 10 December 2023

The Hospital


 If I was to ask you what you thought that this ruin originally was many might suggest it started out life as a chapel. It would be a fair guess, but this is the hospital of St Giles in Maldon which was founded 1154-89 to care for those who were suffering from leprosy. Even the word 'leper' sends chills down the spine...all those tragic photos I saw when I was a child in the 1970s with the lesions and loss of fingers and toes. It's a horrible disease for those who suffer from it and probably travelled across the globe as people migrated. 

You don't hear much about leprosy these days. Occasionally I stumble across references in my reading...a local church has a so-called 'leper's squint', but it's more likely to have been part of the now vanished anchorite's cell and there was a Leper's Walk somewhere near the South Downs. There's still an echo of the victims being ostracised by society as if in some way they were to blame for their affliction. The link with sin has come down through the Victorian morality codes which still linger today. It's been fascinating to read that this approach wasn't a blanket one back in the Medieval times when it was at its height. There was no cure then, but it wasn't as contagious as we once believed. It passes between those who have close and frequent contact via water droplets. There is evidence that the deceased who had leprosy were buried in the main graveyards along with everyone else and this can be proved because the tell-tale lesions remain on the skeletons. The article here about a pilgrim found in Winchester shines a greater light on this one particular man https://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/26/health/leprosy-medieval-pilgrim-skeleton-study/index.html

St Giles is set on the outer edges away from the centre of the town. Even now you can't gain access to the site as it's got a locked gate, but this is a move to protect them from wanton damage. In its day it probably had its own orchards, herb and vegetable gardens together with a clean water supply so it could be reasonably self sufficient. However, it would have had strong links with the community nearby and access to suppliers for additional quantities or for things it couldn't produce itself.  Back then without the medicines to get rid of it people were still cared for and their wounds cleaned. Even all those years ago it was recognised that people would respond positively to having access to beautiful surroundings. Nowadays it would come under the category of 'mental health'.

Ultimately the bacteria which causes leprosy didn't greatly mutate over time, so humans built resistance and more survived. Nowadays there are 208 thousand worldwide. The WHO announced that it was no longer a public health problem in 2000 and if it's caught early enough it can be successfully treated with a course of antibiotics.

Arilx

5 comments:

  1. The Methodist Church where my late Father-in-Law preached at and went to had a link with the Leprosy Mission and we used to help trim thousands of used stamps that they were able to sell to raise a lot of money. The newsletter they sent out to fundraisers was so sad as the Leprosy often continued in places with the least medical care.

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    1. It's still the case I fear. Was surprised to see a leprosy charity shop when we were away earlier in the year as I had forgotten about it really. Arilx

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  2. I have sometimes wondered what became of the 'social services' offered by religious institutions after the dissolution of the monasteries. Did those who ran them simply melt back into the community and continue using their skills albeit on an individual paid basis? Did some hospitals carry on as stand alone institutions without being attached to a religious house? In which case, how were they funded? Individual benefactors? I think I will have to go off and do a bit of reading...

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    1. I don't honestly know. Some relief was provided by the parish, but from what I've read they weren't keen. Arilx

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  3. Like Sue, I recall Leprosy missions being a regular cause for the Church fund raising in my youth. Our grandchildren have possibly never heard the word. Lepers squint - that is the second time in two weeks I have heard that described and never heard of it before.

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