Lepers and leprosy
Connections between East and West in the Middle Ages
in Leprosy and identity in the Middle Ages
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The fact that leper hospitals emerged in the West around the time of the crusades has led to a belief that there is a close connection between the spread of leprosy and the heightened contacts between East and West during the period of warfare. But the examination of sources of all kinds, from historical, hagiographical and medical texts, to archaeological and iconographic evidence, reveals that the disease was present in both the East and the West prior to the crusades. It is also clear that the sick and the healthy were travelling as pilgrims to eastern holy sites before the initiation of the First Crusade in 1095. While the notion that leprosy was transmitted to the West because of the crusades must therefore be questioned, the extension of the field of observation towards the Byzantine world and the Near East is beneficial to our understanding of leprosy in medieval Europe. The western emulation of eastern attitudes towards assisting lepers is evident. Eastern influences can be discerned in the institutional form of the leper hospital, the palliative medical care offered to lepers and the manner in which lepers were treated as a special category of the sick. Furthermore, cultural influences did not travel in only one direction. The strengthening of the contacts between the various Mediterranean shores that resulted from the crusades led to the cross-influence of charitable models, shaping the foundation of leper hospitals, and the identity and treatment of leprosy sufferers, in both West and East.

Leprosy and identity in the Middle Ages

From England to the Mediterranean


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