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HOSPITALS AND SISTERHOODS.
It would take far too much time were I to go over the history of the early ages of Christendom, and show you that women, associated under the ruling civil and ecclesiastical powers, were then officially, but voluntarily, employed in works of social good. That these women should have been early associated with the Church, and held their duties by ecclesiastical appointment, was natural and necessary, because all moral sway, and all moral influence, and all education, and every peaceful and elevating pursuit, belonged for many centuries to the ecclesiastical order only. The singular and beneficent power exercised by the religious and charitable women in those times is remarked by all writers. The whole of the early history of Christianity is full of examples. I will give you one which, on looking over these authorities, struck me vividly.
Paula, a noble Roman lady, a lineal descendant of the Scipios and the Gracchi, is mentioned among the first Christian women remarkable for their active benevolence. In the year 385 she quitted Rome, then a Pagan city; with the remains of a large fortune, which had been expended in aiding and instructing a wretched and demoralized people, and accompanied by her daughter, she sailed for Palestine, and took up her residence in Bethlehem of Judea. There, as the story relates, she assembled around her a community of women. In the old English translation of her life there is a picture of this charitable lady which I can not refrain from quoting: “She was marvellous debonair, and piteous to them that were sick, and comforted them, and served them right humbly; and gave them largely to eat such as they asked; but to herself she was hard in her sickness and scarce, for she refused to eat flesh how well she gave it to others, and also to drink wine. She was oft by them that were sick, and she laid the pillows aright and in point; and she rubbed their feet, and boiled water to wash them; and it seemed to her that the
1 less she did to the sick in service, so much the less service did she to God, and deserved the less mercy; therefore she was to them piteous and nothing to herself.”
This picture, drawn fifteen hundred years ago, so quaintly graphic, and yet so touching in its simplicity, will, perhaps, bring before the mind's eye of those who listen to me, scenes of the same kind, where female ministry has been called upon to do like offices of mercy; to wash the wounds and smooth the couch, and “lay the pillows aright,” of the maimed, the war-broken, the plague-stricken soldier. But we must for a while turn back to the past. It is in the seventh century that we find the communities of charitable women first mentioned under a particular appellation. We read in history that when Landry, Bishop of Paris, about the year 650, founded an hospital, since known as the Hôtel Dieu, as a general refuge for disease and misery, he placed it under the direction of the Hospitalières, or nursing-sisters of the time,-women whose services are understood to have been voluntary, and undertaken from motives of piety. Innocent IV., who would not allow of any outlaying religious societies, collected and united those hospitalsisters under the rule of the Augustine Order, making them amenable to the government and discipline of the Church.
The novitiate or training of a Sæur Hospitalière was of twelve years' duration, after which she was allowed to make her profession. At that time, and even earlier, we find many hospitals expressly founded for the reception of the sick pilgrims and wounded soldiers returning from the East, and bringing with them strange and hitherto unknown forms of disease and suffering. Some of the largest hospitals in France and the Netherlands originated in this purpose, and were all served by the Hospitalières ; and to this day the Hôtel Dieu, with its one thousand beds, and the hospital of St. Louis, with its seven hundred beds, and that of La Pitié, with its six hundred beds, are served by the same sisterhood under whose care they were originally placed centuries ago.
For about five hundred years the institution of the Dames or Sæur Hospitalières remained the only one of its kind. During this period it had greatly increased its numbers, and extended all through Western Christendom.
The thirteenth century saw the rise of another community of compassionate women. These were the Sæurs Grises, or Grey Sisters, so called at first from the original color of their dress. Their origin was this : the Franciscans (and other regular orders) admitted into their community a third or secular class, who did not seclude themselves in cloisters, who took no vows of celibacy, but were simply bound to submit to certain rules and regulations, and united together in works of charity, devoting themselves to visiting the sick in the hospitals or at their own homes, and doing good wherever and whenever called upon.
Women of all classes were enrolled in this sisterhood,-queens, princesses, ladies of rank, wives of burghers, as well as poor widows and maidens. The higher class and the married women occasionally served ; the widows and unmarried devoted themselves almost entirely to the duties of nursing the sick in the hospitals.
Gradually it became a vocation apart, and a novitiate or training of from one to three years was required to fit them for their profession.
When at Florence, in 1857, I found the noble hospital of S. Maria-Nuova, the Hôtel Dieu of Florence, served by this Franciscan sisterhood, to whom it really belonged, though all responsibility with regard to the management had long been taken from them and placed in the hands of gov. ernment officials. In former times there were at least thirty-three hospitals, each of the guilds or companies having its own, supported by its own members and managed by religious sisterhoods and confraternities. All these small hospitals became gradually merged in the large one; this rendered the whole establishment more convenient as a medical school, and as an assemblage of professorships, but the patients probably suffered from being crowded under one roof. At the time I visited it there were nearly 3,000 sick.