Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Tuesday 19 January |
Saint of the Day: St. Branwalator of Jersey
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

How medieval Christians saved abandoned infants

BABY

CC0 Public Domain

Philip Kosloski - published on 01/19/20

Infanticide was common in the Roman Empire, until the Catholic Church stepped in and provided protection.

During the height of the Roman Empire and even during its decline, when a family experienced an “unwanted pregnancy,” they would resort to infanticide to solve their problems. This was a common practice, something that historians have recently confirmed.

According to Discovery News, a study in 2011 reiterated the fact that “Infanticide, the killing of unwanted babies, was common throughout the Roman Empire and other parts of the ancient world.” It did not matter if the child was male or female and researchers concluded that “societies with extreme poverty may use infant homicide as a means to conserve resources, reduce economic strain, or improve the quality of life for the family.”

When Christianity began to spread within the Roman Empire, this practice was openly condemned by the Church and various councils sought concrete ways to stop this practice.

In the book History of Pediatrics, there is a chapter dedicated to how the Church created laws to eradicate infanticide and provide options for struggling families.

The Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) decreed that, in each Christian village, a xenodochion, or hostelry for the sick, poor and vagrant, should be established. Some of these xenodochia became brephotrophia or asylums for children. The Council of Vaison (442) provided that an abandoned child should find sanctuary in a church … This was confirmed by the Councils of Arles (452) and Agde (505), and mothers, who were driven to abandon their new-born offspring through shame or poverty, now left them in the marble receptacle at the church door. This privilege was freely granted at the Council of Rouen. The Council of Constantinople (588) compared the crime of infanticide to that of homicide.

Unfortunately, this practice continued when barbarian tribes took over Europe, but the Church continued to provide sanctuaries for infants. For example, in 787 the Archbishop of Milan, founded the first asylum for abandoned infants with the following declaration.

“Now, therefore, I Datheus, for the welfare of my soul and the souls of my associates, do hereby establish in the house that I have bought next to the church, a hospital for foundling children. My wish is that as soon as a child is exposed at the door of a church, it will be received in the hospital and confided to the care of those who will be paid to look after them.”

Over time this practice was greatly diminished and Christian orphanages were founded to care for children in such difficult situations.

The Catholic Church has always been the strongest advocate for the rights of the child, either born or pre-born, and strives to provide families with much better alternatives that respect the dignity of every human person.


FULL OF GRACE CAFE

Read more:
Every diocese could use a pro-life ministry like this one


FAMILY BLESSING

Read more:
How the family is an “apostolate” in the Church

Tags:
AbortionPro-life
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
DAD, HOW DO I?
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the dad who's teaching basic skills on YouTube for kids with...
2
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful 1-minute film about...
3
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
Reasons Catholics should read the Bible
4
SAINT RITA CASCIA
Bret Thoman, OFS
Traces of miracles remain at the birthplace of St. Rita of Cascia
5
POPE JOHN PAUL II
Philip Kosloski
St. John Paul II's formula for defeating evil in the world
6
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
'An American Blessed': A documentary to thank God in 2021
7
FORGIVING COUPLE
Bret Thoman, OFS
An exorcist teaches 4 steps to forgive
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.