It might perhaps be thought that these hospitals of the Middle Ages would be of very little interest to the modern student of things social and medical except for the fact, surprising enough in itself at this time of supposed neglect of social duties, when the paternal spirit of the municipality is presumed scarcely to have developed as yet, that such institutions were provided. It would ordinarily be assumed that they were, in accordance with the lack of knowledge of the time as regards the influence of light and air on the ailing, dingy and unventilated, lacking most of the qualities that distinguish our modern hospital.

As a matter of fact, however, just as our architects go back to the Middle Ages to get models for our churches and municipal buildings, and even our millionaires’ palaces and public institutions, they also find that in the matter of hospitals much valuable guidance is to be obtained from what was accomplished by these people of the Middle Ages, of whom we ordinarily think so little. Mr. Arthur Dillon, an architect, writing in the “Mail and Express” for May 7th, 1904, described the hospital founded by Marguerite of Bourgogne, the sister of St. Louis, at Tanierre in France in 1293. It consisted of a ward, a building attached to it by a covered passage in which Marguerite herself lived for many years, and separate buildings for kitchens, for storage of provisions and for the lodging of the twenty monks and nuns who had charge of the sick. A feature that perhaps we would not admire very much, was that adjacent to the buildings there was a cemetery. They were not so fearful about death in the Middle Ages, however, as we are apt to be; and who shall say that the contemplation of it did not often give that restful sense of submission to whatever would come, that sometimes means so much in serious illness, and keeps the patient from still further exhausting vitality by worrying as to the outcome? The medicine was stronger than our degenerate generation might be able to bear, but then all their medicines were apt to be stronger in that time.

The situation of the hospital might well be thought ideal. The princess had gardens about her lodging, and the whole property was surrounded by a high wall, along which flowed the branches of a small stream, which doubtless tempered the atmosphere and served as a carrier off of much undesirable material. The hospital ward itself was 55 feet wide and 270 feet long and had a high arched ceiling of wood. It was lighted by large pointed windows high up in the walls. At the level of the window-sills, some twelve feet from the floor, a narrow gallery ran along the wall, from which the ventilation through the windows might be readily regulated and on which convalescent patients might walk or be seated in the sunshine. The beds were placed each in a little room formed by low partitions. Privacy was thus secured much better than in the modern hospital wards, and as there were only forty beds, the ventilation was abundant.

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


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