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Wooden model of a 1400s alms bowl, England, 1917-1920

People did not want to get too close to those with leprosy, which is why this bowl has a handle just under 40 cm long. The bowl may have been used to give money or food without the need for actual contact. People were afraid of catching the disease because of its effects. In the worst cases leprosy can cause disfigurement to the face, hands and feet and muscle paralysis. The original of this model was used in the 1400s at a hospital set up for lepers in Harbledown, Kent. It was founded in 1084 by Archbishop Lanfranc for 32 people. The hospital would have been staffed by members of religious orders; to expose oneself to infection was seen as a mark of holiness. Shown here with a similar example (A635020).

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Glossary: leprosy

A chronic disease that affects the skin, mucous membrane and nerves. It is now confined mainly to the tropics and is transmitted by direct contact. Previously a widely feared disease, leprosy is not highly infectious.

Glossary: paralysis

The loss of function in one or more muscle groups. It causes loss of mobility and feeling.

Glossary: charity

The noble act of voluntarily giving goods, money or time to those in need.

Glossary: alms bowl

The giving of alms, or charitable donations, is a ritual in many religions. An alms bowl was a vessel into which these charitable donations would be placed.