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(Latin hospitium, a guest house).

During the early centuries of Christianity the hospice was a shelter for the sick, the poor, the orphans, the old, the travellers and the needy of every kind. It dates back to reign of Constantine. Originally all hospices were under the supervision of the bishops who designated priests to administer the spiritual and temporal affairs of these charitable institutions. The fourteenth statute of the so called Fourth Council of Carthage, held about 436, enjoins upon the bishops to have hospices in connection with their churches; "ut episcopus non longe ab ecclesiâ hospitiolum habeat" (Manai III, 952"). In course of time these hospices of general character ceased, and special establishments were erected for the particular needs of the people. The term hospice began to be applied only to institutions in which travellers were harboured. Such hospices were erected in impassable and uninhabited regions and on mountain passes. They were generally in charge of hermits or monks. Their number greatly increased when it became customary to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, to Rome, Compostela, Amalfi and other sacred places. They were supported either by pious foundations or the liberality of the people, and gave food and shelter gratuitously, for a limited period of time. In many cities hospices were erected for the entertainment of pilgrims of particular nations. The most famous hospice in the world is that of the great St. Bernard of Switzerland, which was founded by St. Bernard of Menthon in 962. It is situated on the summit of the mountain of the same name, 8110 ft above the level of the sea, and harbours gratuitously 20,000-25,000 travellers every year. It is in charge of Canons Regular of St. Augustine, who are generally known as the monks of St. Bernard. At present it is occupied by 18 monks, eight being priests. On all the neighboring mountains they have erected small huts, which are connected to the hospice by telephone or electric bells. At the risk of their lives these monks, accompanied by their famous dogs, tour the mountains, which during nine months of the year are covered with deep snow, and search for travellers who may have lost their way or otherwise stand in need. Two canons regular, Contard and Glassey lost their lives on one of these tours on 19 November, 1874. The hospice that Napoleon founded on Mount Simplon in 1805 is also in charge of the monks of the Great St. Bernard. The hospice on the Little St. Bernard is since 1752 in charge of Italian monks.


RATEINGER, Geschichte der kirchlichten Armenpflege (Frieburg in Br., 1884), 139-146; LUQUET, Etudes historiques sue l'etablissement hosp, du Grand St. Bernard (Paris, 1857); DURAND, Le vrai conquerant des Alpes D. Bernard (Paris 1905).

About this page

APA citation. Ott, M. (1910). Hospice. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Ott, Michael. "Hospice." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by C.A. Montgomery.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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