Friday, October 17, 2014

On Medieval Charity and Hospitality

     We are almost done with the medieval section of our course, dear reader.  This means a couple of things.  One is this: I must start teaching soon.  Another is this: I will miss learning from my medievalist colleague.  A third is this: it is time to start reflecting on how well or poorly our medieval predecessors cared for the needy.  This post is a start on this third imperative.
     I am most intrigued by what monasteries did to care for the needy.  Other medieval practices, like allowing the poor to "glean," are less attractive to me, although I see from a quick internet search that there is gleaning in the USA today.  As Dr. Rivers has shown, though, monasteries by the High Middle Ages had a whole protocol that revolved around welcoming visitors and providing food and lodging.  This could be applied to visitors who were not poor, but was also given to the poor. 

The idea that one could go to a new place and, whether poor or not, count on some basic hospitality and food, seems good.  I can see that a lot depends on the discretion of the monks tasked to watch the gates of the monastery.  They could be unsympathetic to you.  Also, given the drop in vocations to the religious life currently affecting the Catholic Church, among others, we probably don't have enough monks and nuns to do this kind of work today.  But what about this idea: houses of hospitality, which grow or make their own food, open to those in need, travelers and poor alike.  Is it totally impracticable?  If so, why?

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