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What is a pilgrim hospital?

HeyRobin

Member
Past OR future Camino
2021 and 2022
I know this question sounds silly but it’s been bugging me for a while. I keep on reading about towns that have what used to be a pilgrims hospital that are now museums, or used for other things. Are they meaning a hospital, as in the place where the sick are treated, or do they really mean Hostel as in a place where pilgrims spend the night? Seems like back in the day, there were a lot of pilgrim hospitals and I can’t imagine that many needing medical care. Any historians out there that can comment on this?
 
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Kathar1na

Member
Past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
I know this question sounds silly but it’s been bugging me for a while
Not at all a silly question. I like this description:

"Hospital" is an umbrella term for the diverse array of charitable institutions that arose in the Middle Ages. The word originated as a Latin version of the Greek xenodochium (“house for strangers”) and early hospitales (from hospes, or stranger/guest), like their Byzantine counterparts, accommodated poor travelers and pilgrims. By c. 1200 “hospital” might refer to diverse kinds of houses of aid. An elite few did provide medical treatment, but the majority did not. They were welfare institutions, offering food, shelter, spiritual or other physical care. They varied widely, in staffing and routines, in scale, and in who they served and how: feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, or accommodating the blind, aged priests, orphans, or those with leprosy. They might support three to 300 persons, although many adhered to an apostolic twelve or thirteen.​
BTW, pilgrimage to Santiago and elsewhere was in full swing around the 1200. The word changed its meaning and later it meant hospitals in the sense of a place where medical care is provided. A good example is the large building in Santiago right next to the Cathedral that is now a Parador hotel. It was founded at the end of the Middle Ages as Gran Hospital Real de Santiago de Galicia; it provided stays of 3 days in summer and 5 days in winter for pilgrims but the larger part of it was dedicated for medical care for both pilgrims and locals. It also included an orphanage and accommodation for priests. It eventually turned into a hospital in the modern sense before it was no longer fit for purpose and eventually it got renovated and turned into a hotel.
 

FLEUR

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Camino Frances 2012 - 2016
Voie de Paris / Tours Aulnay to Saintes 2017
Camino del Baztan 2018
On the Voie de Tours, the hôpital des pèlerins in Pons 17 France was a place of shelter. Situated outside the town walls it was a refuge for pilgrims, plus down and outs. Under the arch you can still see the troughs where they put out the dead bodies.
In 2000 the building was still in use as a parking site for municipal vehicles ! Prior to that the main road to Bordeaux passed beneath the archway . That was rerouted.
Thankfully the significance of this building was realised and it has been well restored complète with herb and other gardens. It's a museum and now has Unesco special site listing.
The Pilgrim auberge is housed across the street.
 
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lt56ny

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
10/22 Aragones/Frances
Not at all a silly question. I like this description:

"Hospital" is an umbrella term for the diverse array of charitable institutions that arose in the Middle Ages. The word originated as a Latin version of the Greek xenodochium (“house for strangers”) and early hospitales (from hospes, or stranger/guest), like their Byzantine counterparts, accommodated poor travelers and pilgrims. By c. 1200 “hospital” might refer to diverse kinds of houses of aid. An elite few did provide medical treatment, but the majority did not. They were welfare institutions, offering food, shelter, spiritual or other physical care. They varied widely, in staffing and routines, in scale, and in who they served and how: feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, or accommodating the blind, aged priests, orphans, or those with leprosy. They might support three to 300 persons, although many adhered to an apostolic twelve or thirteen.​
BTW, pilgrimage to Santiago and elsewhere was in full swing around the 1200. The word changed its meaning and later it meant hospitals in the sense of a place where medical care is provided. A good example is the large building in Santiago right next to the Cathedral that is now a Parador hotel. It was founded at the end of the Middle Ages as Gran Hospital Real de Santiago de Galicia; it provided stays of 3 days in summer and 5 days in winter for pilgrims but the larger part of it was dedicated for medical care for both pilgrims and locals. It also included an orphanage and accommodation for priests. It eventually turned into a hospital in the modern sense before it was no longer fit for purpose and eventually it got renovated and turned into a hotel.
Thanks so much for this explanation. A little side bar. I read a long article once that discusses a study done by medical anthropologists. One of their conclusions was that surprisingly peasants on average lived longer (by longer it meant about a year or two) than the aristocracy. They attributed this anomaly to one theory. Peasants did not have access to medical doctors. They used traditional folk remedies for illness and especially infections. While the aristocracy and the wealthy went to doctors whose remedies were often deadly.
 
A sign of the times ... The buildings constructed in the middle ages for the assistance of poor pilgrims are now in use as luxury hotels for rich tourigrini. Recently, and particularly since Covid, the Camino has become less inclusive ... Poor pilgrims are literally left out in the cold and are discouraged from the pilgrimage by rising costs and the shortage of cheap beds, coupled with the eagerness of richer tourigrini to occupy cheaper spaces in order to enjoy the authentic Camino experience. O tempora, o mores 👹.
 

Kathar1na

Member
Past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
Huge medieval buildings like the Parador Hotel need financial resources from somewhere. I find it quite good that the former Gran Hospital Real de Santiago de Galicia is used as a hotel, even a luxury one, and has not become yet another empty museum. It would be interesting to know how it financed itself throughout the centuries since about 1511 when the building works were completed which took ten years in total. I think they received a huge part of the so-called Voto de Santiago/Voto de Granada, which is largely tithe and similar income from land (agricultural property, vineyards, also money from testaments). The Voto was abolished in the 19th century. Of course the times change. The whole structure of the economy and of welfare provision and of taxing has changed fundamentally over the centuries. It would be naive to think that such places were financed by the modest contribution of pilgrims.

BTW, the building was inaugurated as a hotel in 1954. At the time, nobody had even the slightest idea that 70 years later, tens of thousands of foot pilgrims would walk into town every summer month and look for accommodation.
 
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mspath

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
I find it quite good that the former Gran Hospital Real de Santiago de Galicia is used as a hotel, even a luxury one,
.....
BTW, the building was inaugurated as a hotel in 1954. At the time, nobody had even the slightest idea that 70 years later, tens of thousands of foot pilgrims would walk into town every summer month and look for accommodation.
This French text published in 2014 by Denise Pércard-Méa, Franco, saint Jacques et Compostelle is a fascinating intelligent study across time of the varied politics of the camino including 20th c. tourism.

 
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