St. Bartholomew's Hospital
St. Bartholomew’s Hospital remains one of the oldest hospitals in the United Kingdom today. The hospital is located in Smithfield, London, and was part of Farringdon ward Without during the Middle Ages. In 1123, Rahere, a courtier to Henry I, founded St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Rahere was on a journey when he decided he wanted to create a monastery and a hospital for the sick and poor. On his journey, he had a vision of St. Bartholomew, and decided to name the hospital after him. When the hospital was created, it was part of an Augustinian Priory, able to accommodate a hospital master, eight brothers, four sisters, and a few dozen patients. In this hospital, Augustinian canons took care of the patients in the hospital. In fact, before admitting someone into their care, the staff went to these patients’ homes to care for them there. Additionally, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital served many purposes other than caring for the sick. For example, an unmarried mother was able to work at the hospital for a time after giving birth. If the mother died, the child was able to receive room, board, and education at the hospital’s expense. The hospital also served as a place to live for widowed wives, allowing them to be free from the responsibilities of owning property.
Generally, medieval hospitals were very small. Only a few hospitals had over 100 beds because hospitals normally cared for local populations with local care. Hospitals were very significant to the people who lived in, and visited, medieval London. Because they were heavily rooted in the religious life, a primary function of these hospitals was that of spiritual, rather than medical, care. In fact, trained practitioners treated few people because it required additional fees, which many could not afford. In the Middle Ages, it was common for those who traveled and those who fell ill to go to monasteries to receive room and board. As a result, monasteries became overcrowded, and so people began going to hospitals, too.
In fact, hospitals served very similar functions to monasteries because they were usually part of a monastery. Hospitals had many other purposes as well. They were places where clergy resided, where the local population could pray, and the young received an education. Worship was very important in these hospitals, and there were times designated specifically to prayer and services. Staff attended these services regularly, which left them with little time to care for the sick. In some hospitals, it was required for people to pray and attend mass in order to stay at the hospital. Finally, hospitals had a significant educational value. This was particularly true for St. Bartholomew’s hospital. Some grammar schools developed as part of the hospital and children whose parents had died were able to receive education at the expense of the hospital.
In the late eighteenth century, many medieval buildings were demolished, and only a piece of the original hospital that remains is the tower of the church of St. Bartholomew-the- Less, which was a chapel that was part of the hospital. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Norman architecture dominated the city of London. This type of architecture was associated with the expansion of religion and monasteries that was occurring during the time. Norman architecture was characterized by masonry, round arches, and vaulting, which was highly influenced by previous Roman architecture. Materials used for this architecture included earth and clay, stone, and timber, as these were the most abundant materials in England at the time. Some of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital’s medieval architectural features consisted of a square tower, a cathedral, a priori church, and apse. The square tower is the only part of the medieval building that remains today, as well as some of the original Norman stonework, which can be seen in parts of the church and hospital.
- Alexa Conners