Research Stream


Kathryn Smithies (2015)
The University of Melbourne

To Exclude and To Be Excluded: Emotional Responses to the Plight of the Medieval Leper.

This project examines the emotional responses towards the leper in medieval society. Rather than focus on big picture responses such as papal and royal decrees, this project has an individual perspective with emphasis on those being excluded - the leper - and those sanctioning the exclusion through their actions - providers of charity for the leper.

To Exclude and To Be Excluded: Emotional Responses to the Plight of the Medieval Leper.

Image: courtesy of Elisa Dolléans. Remains of the leper chapel of Saint Thomas, Aizier, Eure, France 

The impetus for this project stems from research undertaken during Kathryn Smithies' doctoral thesis, when she encountered a jongleur from Arras who had contracted leprosy. As well as writing several fabliaux, he also wrote a ‘farewell’ poem to his friends and family as he prepared to be excluded from mainstream society and enter a leper colony. Having become an ‘other’, the jongleur’s poem highlights the exclusionary nature of medieval Christian society to its own members. Rarely do we hear the leper directly. How did they respond to such a devastating diagnosis? How did they feel? What were their emotions? The jongleur’s poem is a rare source that provides a glimpse into the world of the leper. Conversely, how did healthy members of society respond to the leper? As many of the leper houses were founded on charitable donations, what can the charters reveal about the emotional responses that drove charitable donations? Why did people give aid to the care of the leper, especially once they had been ‘removed’ from society? Consequently, this project aims to consider the emotional responses surrounding leprosy in the Middle Ages with a focus on northern France from the perspective of those being excluded and those doing the excluding.


Smithies, K. L. ‘Emotional Donor Communities in the Charters: Gift Giving to the Lepers of Rouen', Medieval Round Table, The University of Melbourne, 3 October 2016

Smithies, K. L. ‘The Leper’s Courageous Heart: Inspired by God to Endure the Bodily Suffering’, ‘The Heart’ Study Day, The University of Melbourne, 11 March 2016.


Smithies, Kathryn L. ‘The Leper’s Courageous Heart in Jean Bodel’s Les Congés’.  In The Feeling Heart in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Meaning, Embodiment, and Making, edited by Katie Barclay and Bronwyn Reddan. Medieval Imprint Press, Kalamazoo, forthcoming, 2018/2019.