The subject of community has been researched extensively by sociologists and anthropologists, less so by historians. The 2009 conference challenged participants to consider the idea of community in relationship to the hospital and, particularly, to reflect on how historians should approach the wide range of communities that continue to be shaped by the work of these institutions. Collectively, the case studies in this volume demonstrate that navigation of the history of hospitals requires an understanding of the societies in which these institutions operated. In other words, hospital histories are not just stories about medical institutions; they offer considerable insight into the communities in which they were situated and with which they intersected.
Communities and the Poor
Carole Rawcliffe Communities of the Living and of the Dead: Hospital Confraternities in the Later Middle Ages This essay begins with an examination of two remarkable artefacts, both rare survivals from the later Middle Ages. Indeed, despite its superficially nondescript appearance, the first now seems to be unique – in an English context at least – although it would have prompted far less curiosity at the time of its production, when such items were common. A slim, leather- bound volume, measuring approximately 205mm × 285mm, it contains the ‘kalendar’ and mortilegium, or register of obits, of the leper hospital of St Mary Magdalen at Gaywood, just outside the port of King’s Lynn on the Norfolk coast.1 Here, from about 1296 onwards, were recorded the names of all the men and women whose charitable donations had secured membership of the house’s spiritual confraternity, and for whose salvation prayers and masses were to be of fered in perpetuity. The list, which covers twenty-one folios of closely written double columns, makes for fascinating reading, not least because the indif ferent calligraphy of the final entries, inscribed shortly before the doctrine of purgatory was formally abolished by English reformers in the 1540s, suggests that popular enthusiasm for the commemoration of the dead was perhaps already beginning to f lag. 1 Norfolk Record Of fice, Norwich (hereafter NRO), BL/R/8/1 (previously Bradfer- Lawrence MS IXB/9). See D.M. Owen (ed.), The Making of King’s Lynn: A Documentary Survey (London, Records of Social and Economic History, new series, 9, 1984), pp...
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