We have the best evidence, that of a contemporary, as to the conditions which obtained in these medieval hospitals, and the dispositions of the attendants as regards their religious duties would seem to be an unmistakable index as to their willingness to sacrifice their own comfort for the sake of the patients. The well known Jacques de Vitry, who had been Bishop of Acre and afterwards Cardinal, and whose wide travel had given him many opportunities to judge for himself, said:

“There are innumerable congregations, both of men and women, renouncing the world and living regularly in leper houses and hospitals of the poor, humbly and devoutly ministering to the poor and the infirm. They live according to the rule of St. Augustine, without property and in community and under obedience to one above them; and having assumed the regular habit, they promise to God perpetual continence. The men and women, with all reverence and chastity, eat and sleep apart. The canonical hours, as far as hospitality and the care of the poor of Christ allow, by day and night they attend. In houses where there is a large congregation of brethren and sisters, they congregate frequently in chapter for the correction of faults and other causes. Readings from Holy Scriptures are frequently made during meals, and silence is maintained during meals in the refectory and other fixed places and at certain times. …. Their chaplains, ministering in spiritual matters with all humility and devotion to the infirm, instruct the ignorant in the word of divine preaching, console the faint-hearted and weak, and exhort them to patience and to correspond to the action of grace. They celebrate divine office in the common chapel assiduously by day and night, so that the sick can hear from their beds. Confession and extreme unction and the other sacraments they administer diligently and solicitously to the sick, and to the dead they give due burial. These ministers of Christ, sober and sparing to themselves and {266} very strict and severe to their bodies, overflowing with charity to the poor and infirm and ministering with tender heart to their necessities according to their powers, are all the more lowly in the House of God as they were of high rank in the world. They bear for Christ’s sake such unclean and almost intolerable things, that I do not think any other can be compared to this martyrdom, holy and precious in the sight of God.”

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)


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