Why are so many almshouses dedicated to St John the
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
Should we stop calling Lent a fast, now that true
fasting is rare? A. M.
Address: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd
floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.
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