There had been an organized system of poor-relief in every parish at least since the eleventh century…St Riquier, for example, served more than five hundred meals each day; Corbie distributed fifty loaves; while Cluny kept an annual reserve of five hundred sides of salt pork for the use of the poor. […]

Thus, by the conjoint efforts of the hierarchy, the new [religious] Orders, and private generosity, there came into being a host of charitable institutions…[T]heir character was always markedly religious; the staff consisted of men or women dedicated to God and styled ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters,’ who, even if they belonged to no recognized congregation, followed a Rule inspired in most cases by that of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, and were almost always governed by a cleric, priest or monk. The majority of hospitals were vast buildings – that of Milan was renowned for its beauty – where the sick, the infirm, and the aged alike were received and cared for. […]

Abandoned children, according to ecclesiastical law, were to be laid at the door of a sanctuary or religious house as a precaution against their being killed. They had their own hospital, run by the Order of the Holy Ghost, or were sheltered by Hospitallers of Jerusalem who had left their normal duties in Palestine so as to carry on this holy work in Europe. Some of these children’s hospices were enormous, and the inmates were looked after until they reached adult age, when work was found for the boys and a dowry provided for those girls who did not wish to take the veil.

Henri Daniel-Rops, Cathedral and Crusade: Studies of the Medieval Church (1050-1350) 

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