The regulations for the admission and care of patients are interesting as showing how much these medieval institutions tried to fulfill the ideal of hospital work. The people of the Middle Ages had not as yet suffered all the disillusionments that come from the abuse of charity at the hands of those who least deserve help, and besides, the attendants at the hospitals were expected to do their work for its own sake and from the highest motives of Christian benevolence rather than for any lesser reward. At the beginning, at least, there seems to be no doubt that this lofty purpose was accomplished very satisfactorily; but men and women are only human, and after a time there was deterioration. Even Virchow, however, was so struck by the ideal conditions that existed in these early hospitals that he discussed the necessity for having in modern times hospital attendants with as unselfish motives as those of the medieval period. It seems worth while then to give some of the details of this supremely Christian management of hospital work.
In an article on the medieval hospitals in the Dublin Review for October, 1903, Elizabeth Speakman quotes from the statutes of various hospitals sufficient to show how the internal government of these charitable institutions was regulated. There was always a porter at the main door, usually one of the Brothers or Sisters, who had the power to receive patients applying for admission. At certain places, however, it seems to have been necessary to inform the superior; and the statutes of the French Hospital at Angers say, that the prioress is to go herself without delay to receive patients or to send one of the Sisters for that purpose, “not severe or hard, but kind of countenance.” At the same place the statutes say, “the number of the sick is not to be defined, for the house is theirs, and so all indifferently shall be received as far as the resources of the house allow.”
From many of the hospitals members of the community were sent out from day to day to find out if there were any lying sick who needed care and who should be sent to the hospital. They were expected also to pick up any of the infirm whom they might find along the streets and bring them to the hospital.
James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)