This book is the first comprehensive study of Polish hospitals from the high Middle Ages through the eve of the French Revolution, a subject virtually unknown in the Anglophone and Polish historiographies. The work examines the ways in which the conflicts between the Church, the nobility, and municipal authorities shaped Poland's hospitals across six centuries. The hospital was the most common and successful pre-modern European charitable institution. Hospitals existed in all European states subscribing to Christian dogmas of charitable giving and represented their most ritualized expression. As such, hospital functions reflected, and were affected by, the social relations between donors and receivers of alms. Hospitals thus served as the mirrors of charity. Unfortunately, English-language studies of European hospitals have so far concentrated only on the best known Western European institutions, almost entirely ignoring their Eastern European counterparts.
At the same time, western historians have developed two seemingly irreconcilable explanations for the hospital phenomenon, imagining that charitable action derived exclusively either from socio-economic, or from religious causes alone. By introducing the phenomenon of Polish hospitals into the existing discussion this new study in a small way helps to correct that historiographical imbalance. By analyzing the origins of hospitals in Poland, their development in cities and the countryside, the methods of their funding, their administrative practices, and, finally, the experiences of the sheltered poor, the present work suggests that Polish hospitals did not always follow western trends and that a combination of economic and religious-inspired motivations defined Polish society's interaction with its institutionalized poor. The history of pre-modern Polish hospitals is thus situated within the larger patterns of European hospitalization, adding new data from a neglected region to show how social interactions as well as religious assumptions helped to shape hospital development.