Catholic monasteries were the center of life in Medieval Europe. They were places of learning and prayer. Pilgrims came from far and wide to visit these religious houses, which also served as hotels to weary travelers.
Monasteries also doubled as hospitals. The sick could come and stay until they either recovered or they died. They were cared for by people hired by the monks. Oftentimes, though, one of the monks who was skilled in natural medicine oversaw their treatment.
The rise of Western monasticism began around the sixth century AD, when Saint Benedict of Nursia founded a string of religious houses for men in what is now Italy. It was communal living and all goods were shared.
This style of living, which featured manual labor, prayer and study, then spread throughout the continent.
There are fewer monasteries today, but they still exist. And they still operate as self-sustaining entities that welcome pilgrims, which provides them with some revenue. They also help support themselves with sales of various hand-made products, such as coffee, fudge and fruitcake.
Flickr photo by cale_yu