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When leprosy began to disappear after the Crusades (1100-1300), the remaining colonies, the leprosariums, were converted to other uses. These establishments were soon filled with all types of persons considered deviant: orphans, vagabonds, madmen, incurables, prostitutes, widows, criminals. These "cities of the damned" had the power of "authority, direction, administration, commerce, police, jurisdiction, correction and punishments," and had at their disposal "stakes, irons, prisons and dungeons." Later in 1657, two French facilities were established: the Salpetriere, which housed 1,416 women and children; and the Bicetre, which held 1,615 men.


During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church provided refuge to those in need, establishing orphanages, hospitals, and homes for the blind and the aged. In 787 A. D., Datheus, archbishop of Milan, founded the first asylum for abandoned infants. "As soon as the child is exposed at the door of the church," he wrote, "it will be received in the hospital and confined to the care of those who will be paid to look after them." Conditions at such institutions were custodial at best, and most children did not survive.


During this time, "idiot cages" became common in town centers to "keep people with disabilities out of trouble." They may have served as entertainment for townspeople.

Idiot Cages
Idiot Cages