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Out of the Question

by
13 February 2015

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Your answers

Why are so many almshouses dedicated to St John the Baptist?

Before there were almshouses, there were hospitals, which began to be founded in England in the late 11th century. Soon afterwards, the Order of St John (later the Knights of St John) began to run a hospital of St John the Baptist in Jerusalem. They followed the Rule of St Augustine, as did the clergy who ran many other new hospitals in Western Europe, and the dedications to St John are likely to have been influenced by the Jerusalem one. In England, they appeared during the 12th century in numerous towns such as Bristol, Exeter, Northampton, Nottingham, and Oxford.

Hospitals generally ceased to offer care for the sick in the late 14th century and turned into almshouses providing accommodation for the elderly and infirm. Most of the surviving almshouses dedicated to St John are in fact these older hospitals, but some new almshouses of the later Middle Ages also commemorated the same saint.

There is a complete list of hospitals, almshouses, and their dedications in D. Knowles and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, second edition (London, 1971).

(Professor) Nicholas Orme Department of History
Exeter University

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