Medical care in the Templar Order

The Knights Templar provided medical care, both for their own brothers as for people from outside the Order. Taking care of medical problems started with preventing illness to enter the Order in the first place. Concealing illness on entry was considered an offence, which could lead to expulsion. Leprosy and epilepsy are mentioned explicitely in the Rule as illnesses to be kept out of the Order. But when sickness came up, care was provided.

The Rule provides for those who became ill or wounded in the service of the Order. They were given over to the care of the lnfirmarer, When ill Templars were exempted from the strict dietary rules and from attendance at services. Diseases were recognised and treated, using quarantine if necessary, as well as medical advice from outside the Order. Leprose Templars were offered to transfer to the Order of Lazarus, a community of lepers in close association with the Templar Knights.

Templar care was extended beyond its own membership, also starting with adressing common food shortages. The Rule prescribed feeding three to four poor wherever the Master was himself. In all other cases the remainders of the brothers' meals were given to the poor. To provide for enough remains to be available, the brothers' portions were generous, not to be eaten by the brothers themselves but to be left over for the poor.

The Order also maintained permanent establishments for both poor and sick. Hospices spread everywhere, monastic hospitals, cathedral hospices and parish hospices. Examples are the ones at Autun, Chalon, Màcon, Auxerre, Langres, Châtillon, Beaune and Vezelay. Nevertheless, in this repect the role of the Knights Hospitaller was more prominent because they were founded upon hospitallity and the Temple was primarily a military brotherhood.

In general, "(...) healthcare policy, such as it was, was based on Christian teachings; that it was everyone’s duty to care for the sick and poor. To that end medieval hospitals more resembled modern day hospices providing basic care for the destitute and dying with nowhere else to go. Education and literacy were largely the preserve of the clergy and it was in monasteries where most hospitals could be found. (...) The sick were cared for by a mix of practitioners including physicians, surgeons, barber-surgeons and apothecaries. Of these only physicians would have received formal training. The vast majority of people providing healthcare were practising a mix of folklore and superstition. However, it was in the early medieval period that the first medical schools were formed and the first ever medical students went to university. (...) These particular small steps would begin the role of doctor as a scholar and start to legislate the standards required of a physician. This would be a vital first step without which future advances could never have been possible."

It is quite feasible that the health care level of the Templars and other military Orders which originated in the Crusader Orient, were more advanced than the general Western level, because of the fact that they operated close to monastic knowledge and were familiar with and influenced by Muslim health care which had already been in development for some time.

Source of the main text Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple (1995); The last but one paragraph quotes sections of Medical school medieval style by Jamie McDreeamie, visited January 7, 2023. Illustration is from this latter blog, which refers to this source.

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