Ask nicely, and stewards of a centuries-old charitable tradition will give you free bread and beer.
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 originated with a monk from Cluny, France, who worked at St. Cross. His holy order made a practice of giving bread and wine to travelers; in turn, the Hospital of St. Cross adopted the idea and anglicized it, substituting beer for the wine.
The hospital (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 meticulously manicured gardens.
Know Before You Go
The hospital has different hours depending on the season, so consult its website before visiting. Visitors may specifically request the Dole at the Porter’s Lodge. It will not be offered without a direct request.
Much of the interior is private, and there is a charge to enter the public area.
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