The Church and Hospital of St. Cross

Though no monastery at any period, the church and hospital of St. Cross present to this day so much the semblance of a monastery, in the general style of its buildings and their juxtaposition with the noble church, and in the dress of the members, whom on our visits we see wandering about in the precincts, each in his black cloak, and with a large silver cross on his breast, that with a little exercise of the imagination one may easily fancy the old Catholic times revived, and half anticipate, as we pace silently and thoughtfully along towards the sacred edifice, that we shall hear the masses sung for the souls of some great departed,—Henry de Blois, perhaps, King Stephen’s brother, who first founded the establishment, or Cardinal Beaufort, who re-founded it, and with much greater magnificence. But the place is, in truth, a monument simply of the charity of our forefathers, and we need not look in any part of England for one more worthy of them. The hospital was originally founded for thirteen poor men; these were to reside within its walls, and receive a daily allowance of three and a quarter pounds of bread, a gallon and a half of beer, besides mortrel, an ancient and no doubt very good kind of egg-flip, and besides a quantity of wastel bread, or dainty cakes. Then there was fish in Lent for dinner, flesh at other times, and an excellent supper always provided. But the building here on our left as we enter the first quadrangle, and called Hundred Men’s Hall, reminds us that we have not mentioned the whole provision made by the warlike but charitable bishop for the poor. One hundred of the most indigent inhabitants of Winchester were provided with a dinner in that hall every day, and as their respective allowances were more than even the sharpest-set appetites required, they were permitted to take the remainder home with them; it was, in short, a dinner for their families as well as themselves. To both these classes were added the religious and other officials, who comprised a master, steward, four chaplains, thirteen clerks, and seven choristers, all educated in the hospital. This, to our notions, should seem pretty well for one charitable establishment; but Bishop Blois’ successor thought he could do better, and so added another hundred poor men to the daily dinner in the halls. Lastly, having sunk through corruptions,—its revenues having been plundered and wasted,—Cardinal Beaufort thought it only dealing in a liberal spirit with the hospital, after William of Wykeham had enforced restitution of the old estates, to do something to raise them still higher in amount than they had ever been, and make the most hospitable of institutions still more hospitable. So thirty-five members were at once added to the thirteen for whom a permanent home and maintenance had been provided; and two priests and three nuns to the religious body, the last to wait upon the sick in the infirmary. And to what has all this dwindled? Here are stately buildings; walks, grass-plots, and flower-borders, all in the trimmest order; lodges for the brethren, each having his three rooms, and some hundred a year to spend in them, in the most comfortable manner, for he may follow a trade or profession in the College, may have his wife and family with him there if he pleases; but how many brethren are there of the forty-eight that were here maintained? Why, some eleven or twelve. Beaufort wished his charity to be called the “Alms House of Noble Poverty;” and it has generally been supposed he meant thereby to aid reduced gentlemen in their lowest estate; the modern and practical reading has been, that the Noble Poverty intended to be benefited was that particular state of pecuniary difficulty which is only evidenced in a non-capability of maintaining faithful old servants at its own expense, and which, therefore, kindly hands them over to the care and expense of the hospital. Let it not also be overlooked that any one who knocks at the porter’s gate before the day is “too far spent,” may receive a horn of ale and a slice of bread; few, except pleasure-seeking tourists, do come for such a purpose, but we must own, now that the extensive process of feeding two hundred poor men of Winchester daily has been quietly got rid of, it is as well not to mind these bread and ale casualties, which form the only existing vestige of the custom, particularly as they are generally well paid for in gratuities. Of course, in these remarks we refer to no particular persons or time; there is no saying when or how the change was consummated; it has been in process for centuries; but it does stir one’s indignation to see the property of the poor, wherever we look, thus silently filched from them. It is but a simple matter of arithmetic to estimate what must have been the value now of endowments that four centuries ago supported entirely forty-eight families, and partially two hundred more. The church, we may add, yet remains in many respects as Blois himself left it. It is of the cathedral form, with a huge massive Norman tower at the intersection of the transept by the nave and chancel or choir. (Figs. 728, 729, 731.) The very antiquity, of course, gives interest to the structure, but it possesses features of a higher kind in its architectural characters, which have been deemed of such importance, that Dr. Milner thought the Gothic was actually discovered from the accidental effect produced by some peculiar intersections of circular arches in the chapel or church of St. Cross.