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PRIORY AND HOSPITAL OF ST MARY OF BETHLEHEM

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The Priory and Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem, formerly located in Bishopsgate, London, was the foundation of what is now known today as Bethlem Hospital. The Priory and Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem was founded by Simon FitzMary in 1247 after influence from Goffredo de Prefetti, the bishop-elect of Bethlehem. A document recorded in 1247 describes a grant that was given by FitzMary of his property in Bishopsgate to the Cathedral Church of St Mary of Bethlehem in Palestine (the Church of the Nativity) to found a priory.

The site of the priory was on the west side of Bishopsgate street which is now covered by Liverpool Street Station. Bethlem was built here and remained as such for 400 years. Its function as a priory was short-lived, although it was established as a religious house with a master and brothers and sisters. Alms were distributed and collected and shelter was provided for the sick and infirm.

The name of the institution which is known today as ‘Bethlem’ is one of many medieval variants of the original ‘Bethlehem’, including ‘Bedlam’, ‘Bedlehem’, Betleem’, ‘Bethelem’ and ‘Beddeleem’.

The first evidence of the hospital being used to include psychiatric patients (classed then as ‘insane’) dates from 1403. As a result of this the hospital is probably the oldest psychiatric hospital in Europe that is still in use. By the 17th century however, the patients of Bethlem were suffering from neglect due to overcrowding despite the fact that enlargements to the hospital has taken place in this period which trebled the accommodation from the original 20 or so patients. Although not harmed itself during the fire of London in 1666, it was decided that Bethlem should be rebuilt about a half a mile to the west at Moorfields. In 1676 the building of Bethlem, formally known as The Priory and Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem, ceased use. In 1874, Liverpool Street Station in the City of London opened on the site of the now demolished former priory and hospital.

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