St Leonard's Hospital

Hospital Ruins

1137AD - 1539AD

The ruins of St. Leonards Hospital only hint at the significance of the Hospital in medieval York.  Founded soon after the Norman Conquest, it was believed to be the largest medieval hospital in the north of England. 

Remains of the hospital's undercroft can be accessed from the Museum Gardens, just to the right of the Museum Street entrance and contains some Roman and Medieval stonework.

The hospital was erected on the site of the former hospital St. Peters which was severely damaged in a fire in 1137.  It was closely associated with the Minster, sharing the same grounds because it was so large.  It was a self-sufficient building until the Reformation resulted in the religious aspects of hospitals being victimised and consequently St. Leonards was largely destroyed.  This left York without a hospital from the time of Henry VIII to 1740. 

Overall, the main function of a medieval hospital was to care for the sick, the poor, the old and the infirm. Nurses performed acts of care which included cleaning, feeding, clothing and housing the sick, however medieval men and women also had their spiritual health to contend with. 

At first glance the remains of St. Leonards looks like the ruins of an old church and to an extent this is true.  Religion was very dominant in the middle ages.  In return for following the Church’s recommended way of living, religion promised medieval folk the joy of being sent straight to Heaven.  The sick were not allowed to be treated for any physical illness until they had confessed all their sins and as a result have their soul cleansed. The daily routine of the hospital included religious rituals like regular prayers.

The high-ceilings and large windows of St Leonard's were there for a reason.  Illness in the middle ages was thought to be caused by ‘bad air’ and therefore high ceilings and windows were important to circulate fresh air.