The Elusive Medieval Hospital: Mainz and the Middle Rhine Region

Lucy Barnhouse, Fordham University


This dissertation works to overcome the compartmentalization of existing scholarship on medieval hospitals, through comparing leper hospitals to multipurpose institutions, through using diverse source genres, and through drawing on a multilingual historiography. Analyzing hospitals’ negotiation of their status as religious houses takes seriously the collective agency of hospital communities. During the long thirteenth century, the meaning of religious status for individuals and institutions was redefined. This was a process affected in part by the negotiations of independent hospitals—unattached to religious orders—and hospital staff for their privileges. The late medieval institutional development of urban hospitals was affected by the late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century standardization of religious observance. In the mid-thirteenth century, ecclesiastical and civic authorities united in efforts to separate the male and female staff of mixed-gender hospital communities. Mainz had four independent hospitals in the later Middle Ages: a twelfth-century foundation, later overseen by the council; a hospital managed by women forced to leave the first; a leper hospital; and a private foundation of the 1350s. Examining these institutions, and others like them in the Middle Rhine region, fills a lacuna in existing scholarship. This dissertation examines, firstly, the history of Mainz’s oldest hospital, which came under civic administration from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-fifteenth century, to the civic hospitals of Worms and Speyer, evaluating how they negotiated with ecclesiastical authorities for legal exemptions. The study of the hospital sisters’ independent community in Mainz sheds light on how the scholarship on religious women can be applied to hospitals, and on the contested definitions of religious status in the later Middle Ages. Next, it is demonstrated that the leper hospitals of Mainz and the central Rhineland, were integrated in their environments, and that their regulation was not driven primarily by fear of contagion. Analysis of hospitals’ social networks reveals that location and wealth both affected how hospitals cultivated relationships with donors and neighbors. The last chapter examines small hospitals in the central Rhineland, concluding that, no less than more prominent institutions, such hospitals were integrated in their communities as religious houses.

Subject Area

Religious history|History|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Barnhouse, Lucy, "The Elusive Medieval Hospital: Mainz and the Middle Rhine Region" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10277989.