The Hospital of St Cross

Nestling in the water meadows alongside the River Itchen and in the shadow of St Catherine’s Hill lies the ancient Hospital of St Cross. Renowned for the tranquillity of its setting and the beauty of its architecture, the Hospital is one of England’s oldest continuing almshouses.These fine medieval buildings have provided food and shelter for hundreds of years. The principal activity of the Hospital continues to be the provision of individual, private apartments for a living community of about twenty-five elderly men. Known as ‘Brothers’ they wear black or red gowns and a trencher hat for daily church and other formal occasions.At the heart of the Hospital’s inner quadrangle is a wonderful Norman church, its tower, chancel, transepts and nave soaring so high that it looks like a cathedral in miniature. Nearby stand a classic medieval hall and kitchen, as well as a Tudor cloister, with another ancient hall in the outer quad that serves as a tea room. The extensive gardens are immaculately maintained throughout the year.

The Hospital of St Cross

Legend has it that the Hospital’s foundation originated in a walk that Henry of Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror, took in the Itchen Meadows. He was supposedly stopped by a young peasant girl who begged Henry to help her people, who were starving because of the civil war. The parallel with the Virgin Mary was not lost on Henry, 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 of 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 is said to be 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. However the water was unfit for drinking so copious amounts of ale and beer were needed.

In the fifteenth century, Cardinal Beaufort created the Order of Noble Poverty, adding the Almshouse to the existing Hospital buildings and giving St Cross the look that it has today. His image appears on the Beaufort Tower.

The Hospital of St Cross

The Hospital comprises two separate ancient charitable foundations, which have been merged for some centuries. Brothers from the two foundations are often referred to as the Black Brothers or the Red Brothers.The Order of the Hospital of St Cross (The Black Brothers)The Hospital of St Cross was founded in approximately 1132 by Bishop Henry of Blois. Brothers from this foundation wear a black robe, a black trencher hat and a silver badge in the shape of the Cross of Jerusalem.The Order of Noble Poverty (The Red Brothers)In 1445 the Order of Noble Poverty was founded by Cardinal Henry Beaufort. These Brothers wear a claret robe, a claret trencher hat and a silver Cardinal’s badge as a reminder of their founder.The Hospital has places for twenty five Brothers in total, each of whom is allocated his own self-contained flat. The flats date back to the fifteenth century and are all on the ground or first floor. Typically, they comprise a sitting room, bedroom, kitchen, shower or wet-room and separate lavatory. The flats are unfurnished and each Brother usually provides his own furniture. In cases of extreme hardship the Hospital can sometimes help with the provision of some items.A new Brother is assigned to either order, depending on which apartment is granted to him.

The Hospital of St Cross

The Hospital of St Cross is famous for its unique and ancient tradition of providing the Wayfarer’s Dole. This is a horn of beer and a morsel of bread given to any visitor who requests it. The custom was founded by a monk from Cluny in France, whose holy order always gave bread and wine to travellers. The tradition still continues today. Visitors may request the Dole at the Porter’s Lodge as they depart.

The Hospital of St Cross

20 Comments CherryPie on Dec 3rd 2016

20 Responses to “The Hospital of St Cross”

  1. The Yum List says:

    What a beautiful first photo – looking through the archway.

  2. Our hospital is nothing like that. Not even close…It would been nice to see a newer looking hospital as well.

    Coffee is on

  3. Amfortas says:

    “”a monk, knight and politician in one”". We could do with a few more of this sort. Meanwhile his legacy is cool and ‘cool’ for old chaps like me, who also has accomodations at the provosion of Knights. Me being one of them. The Knights of the Southern Cross.

  4. James Higham says:

    Puzzled me – do you type those out, Cherie or are there online brochures?

    • CherryPie says:

      Sometimes I copy them from websites (as in this case). At the begining of the quotation is a link to the page where I got the information.

      Other times I do type it out from guidebooks and other literature. When I do that there is an asterix at the end of the quote and a footnote saying where the information came from.

      When I have more time I write an article from scratch without any quotations. I think I am overdue writing a piece like that.

  5. shabana says:

    never seen such beautiful hospital before .
    thank you for sharing interesting and informative post dear.
    i can imagine the calmness of environment through your photos and words

  6. Debbie says:

    it is a beautiful place, your images are pretty!!

  7. Wendy says:

    A fascinating history. I like the way the Dole still exists – I wonder if many people ask for it.

  8. Astrid says:

    I remember being here. I love the place. Those chimneys stole my heart, don’t ask me why….

  9. How could I miss this in Winchester? ;)