The hospital was brought to England by the Normans and rapidly absorbed into pre-Conquest frameworks of land-tenure, custom and alms. These charitable houses became a recognised and popular type of house, distinct in form and development from both monasteries and French hospitals. Although its constitution was not written, the early hospital had a consistent arrangement, physical in substance and purpose: it was a form of sited alms, with regular, visible, dependent provisioning. Its customary systems of support were public demonstrations (and thus repetitive commemorations) not only of the nature of its endowment and alms, but also of the founder's intent and generosity.
(Revised May 19 2006)
1 I am grateful to Benjamin Thompson, Barbara Harvey and Henrietta Leyser for their inspiration, advice and discerning insight.