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

This alms bowl has six drain holes and may have been used to give money or food while keeping the donor at a ‘safe’ distance. This example was made for an exhibition and is a copy of one used at St Nicholas Hospital 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. Henry Wellcome did his utmost to acquire objects for his collection. He was not always successful. Undeterred, he would seek permission to have copies made of those objects he could not acquire. Shown here with a similar example (A635019).

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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: 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.