Society for Creative Anachronism

West Dragonshire


Winchester Pilgrimage VIII

The Hospital of St Cross

The Hospital of St Cross, which is England's oldest continuing almshouse, comprises a group of grade I listed medieval and Tudor buildings, including a medieval hall and tower, Tudor cloister, and Norman church. The term "Hospital", in this context, has the same origin as "hospitality" and for over 850 years St Cross has provided food and shelter to people in need. It has been home to the Master and Brethren of St Cross since medieval times and continues to do so.  Legend has it that the Hospital's foundation originated in a walk that Henry de Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror, took in the Itchen Meadows. He was supposedly stopped by a young peasant girl who begged de Blois to help her people, who were starving because of the civil war. The parallel with the Virgin Mary was not lost on de Blois, who was so moved by the girl's plight that when, a little further along the river, he discovered the ruins of a religious house, he resolved to use the site to establish a new community to help the poor. How much of this is fact is unclear, but we do know that Henry de Blois was young, wealthy and powerful: a monk, knight and politician in one. Appointed Bishop of Winchester in 1129 at the age of 28, he founded the Hospital of St Cross between 1132 and 1136, creating what has become England's oldest charitable institution. The Hospital was founded to support thirteen poor men, so frail that they were unable to work, and to feed one hundred men at the gates each day. The thirteen men became the Brothers of St Cross. Then, as now, they were not monks. St Cross is not a monastery but a secular foundation. Medieval St Cross was endowed with land, mills and farms, providing food and drink for a large number of people - don't forget the water was unfit for drinking so copious amounts of ale and beer were needed! In the fifteenth century, Cardinal Beaufort added to the St Cross buildings and is widely regarded as giving St Cross the look it has today.

Be advised that the "Winchester Pilgrimage" event is an exercise in exploring the mediaeval concept of pilgrimage and therefore will have strong Christian themes and religious content as an inherent part of the event. Please bear this in mind when deciding whether to attend. The site includes the local parish church and there will be services on Sunday morning. The Master of St Cross and the Brothers would welcome you joining them for morning services.

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Site last updated 15 Feb 2018 by Raphe Cuthbert