The monastic contribution to mediaeval medical care
D. A. FURNISS (Leeds)
Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Vol.15:4 (1968)
In England in the Middle Ages the number of monasteries rose toaboutonethousand. The total population of the country was between two and three millions. Thus,in addition to the normal places of worship,there was one monastery to every 2-3,000 people. It is truly amazing that the population could support this lavish scale of provision. Eventually the burden proved too much,but that is the story of the reformation. These monastic establishments were inhabited by monks, canons or friars or their female equivalents. The community was styled abbey, priory or friary according to the organization adopted by theinhabitants. An average establishment might contain about 20 but the number of inhabitants varied from single figures to several hundreds. Most religious houses employed a number of lay retainers.
One of the largest English monasteries was the Cistercian Abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire where dwelt 200 monks and 400 lay brethren. Nearly every monastery had its sickbay. Some had more than one to cater for different sections of the community. Hope and Bilson (1907) instances the largest Cistercian monasteries as having two infirmaries, one for the monks and one for the lay brethren. In addition to this there were 500 purpose-built hospitals in mediaeval England. A list of these together with the evidence for their existence and use is given by Knowles and Hadcock (1953). These were staffed by monks, canons or nuns of whom there would usually be between ten and twenty.