Wayfarer's Dole - Gastro Obscura
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Ritual & Medicinal

Wayfarer's Dole

One of the oldest surviving charities in England continues its tradition of handing out free beer and bread.

The Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty is one of England’s oldest charitable institutions. Founded in Winchester sometime between 1132 and 1136, it was created to house a small group of poor men (who eventually became the Brothers of St. Cross) and feed needy travelers who came to its gates. One of its charitable practices, providing the Wayfarer’s Dole, continues today. In this tradition, all visitors who knock on the heavy wooden door of the Porter’s Lodge and ask for the Dole will receive a small cup of beer and a morsel of bread.

The custom was started by a monk from Cluny, France, who worked at St. Cross. This monk’s holy order would always give bread and wine to travelers, so the hospital adopted the idea and anglicized it by substituting beer for the wine. 

The hospital (which is a “hospital” in the older sense of the word, meaning a charitable institution, not a medical facility) now hosts 25 brothers and welcomes visitors from around the world. In addition to the Dole, visitors can enjoy St. Cross’s beautiful Norman church, Tudor cloister, and extensive gardens.

Need to Know

The hospital has different hours depending on the season, so consult its website before visiting.

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