Establishing Orphanages?

So, in the early history of the OoH game I'm running (currently 801 AD ) the PCs made a deal with a saint for some help they needed. In exchange, the saint asked the PCs to establish orphanages in the pentarchy: Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome. They'll have to find someone trustworthy to actually directly manage the orphanages, rent/lease/buy land, may have to repair and fix up buildings, and then arrange for funds to be regularly delivered.

What I'm kind of sketchy on is how they would approach the authorities in each city on doing so?

This is a period in which money does not talk very well, and gifted foreigners coming to a city are always going to have a hard time of it. There is also going to be some intrigue with Angels & Demons, prophecy and exploration. Any other suggestions are welcome. :slight_smile:

The background:

In previous adventures, they have fought the Order of Solomon and killed about a dozen state sanctioned sahirs. In my game and time period I interpreted the OoS to be wizards in service to the Caliph, with other, independent Sahir's who don't want to be part of the politics of the Caliphate. They have also stopped the Muspelli from trying to end the world twice.

The Muspelli and the OoS worked together to destroy the Order of Hermes - fortunately the PCs covenant is so large that the OoS though t their covenant was the entire OoH. Unfortunately for the PCs, they came back to their covenant after a different adventure, and found their covenant GONE. The two rival groups had worked together to summon a Titan-Aspect to pull the entire covenant into the Magic Realm.

In other adventures, the PCs have encountered a powerful saint who has a knack for finding regios and entering them. So they got help from him to enter the Magic Realm and his price was their aid in establishing orphanages. The saint is looking to find a prophesied child that has a special destiny -if- the saint can find the child in time.

Edit Sept 2015:

I found this book to answer my specific question focusing on the area (Byzantium) & the Time period (800s)

It's called "The Orphans of Byzantium: Child Welfare in the Christian Empire" by Timothy S. Miller ... 0813213134

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In a time when orphans were frequently left to starve on the streets and child labor laws were non existent, establishing an orphanage should be a matter of having a building, someone to administer it, and getting the word out "drop off your unwanted children here" in a much more diplomatic tone. In fact you might start by simply letting street kids sleep and eat there- the biggest concern is that the authorities might think you are organizing criminal gangs of children.

In the cities where the Church is still dominant (Rome, Constantinople, and I think Antioch?), the best way would be to have your group's Jerbiton, Redcap or similar mouthpiece seek audience with a local bishop or archbishop (parish priests work too, but talking to the bishop ensures a bit of oversight, which is beneficial in this case, and helps build the reputation of your cause), and then ask if they would object if you funded an orphanage, a guild for financing it and probably the hire of a grammar teacher (I assume your PCs are not half-assing the establishment of these orphanages). Mind you, for most covenants five orphanages is gonna suck up a lot of income, and since this is pre-Black Death, the labor of the children is effectively worthless even if they're working three seasons a year; make sure your mundane silver income is up to date. Once everything is established in each city, though, you just put a nominal bit of the PCs' vis income into the temporary care of House Mercere and ask them to make sure a Redcap stops by now and then to make sure that the orphanage isn't skimming funds that were meant to go to food or selling children into slavery, and have them deliver the annual budget.

Technically, you don't need to get the local church involved at all, but whoever you ask will probably be delighted to hear of such a charitable thing happening, and will be able to point you to an ideal location and find you a marginally-employed clerk to rent for a season every year.

Now, the problem will be setting up the orphanages in Alexandria and Jerusalem. Your magi are foreign Christians and any large-scale spending of money for charitable works is likely to get the local authorities on their rears, period (it's simply horribly suspicious). The way I'd do it is to spend stories looking for a local Muslim ally who they really trust, and employ him as their front man and have him set up the orphanage. Make sure that the Suhhar doesn't get wind of your peeps operating in Muslim territory and spreading money around.

Another trick, if you have any Muslim PCs (and the saint is okay with this), would be to send one on hajj. A hajji can get away with saying he's from anywhere, and if a wealthy hajji throws around money like water, that's to be expected (Mansa Musa established a new mosque every Friday when he was on his procession, and threw around so much gold with his charitable works that it caused Egypt's economy to hyperinflate). Setting up an orphanage in Alexandria for teaching youngsters the Faith is a worthy and noble deed! A pilgrim going to Jerusalem might be able to arrange the same thing, but it'd be a bit messier.

If you sell apprentices (craft apprentices, not magical) the orphanages can also generate some revenue without having to get into slavery. If you are checking in occasionally you might want to develop some InVi to check for gifted children- you know the kind who get abandoned by their parents...

Have a close look at these: ... 28Siena%29 ... _in_Sassia

In general, orphanages in 1220 were part of hospitals.
There were already some of the famous 'ruote' (i. e. baby hatches), that provided a way to leave orphans at the hospital without their mothers becoming known.
These hospitals were in the charge of communities, that worked best if they had a certain independence. In 1220 such communities usually were still part of a religious order, but hospitals in charge of lay brotherhoods dedicated to that hospital fared best. And all these hospitals aggressively collected contributions from rich visitors, citizens and communities of their cities.

So 1220 is really an excellent time to found orphanages or hospitals in Ars Magica. Working examples are existing, as is an awareness of their necessity. And magi creating some of a hospital's resources by magic are likely to become benefactors instead of being hassled by their Tribunal.


Wow, cool sources and both work for the time period of my game!

Sorry, but in 801 there are not yet any public orphanages that I know of. Still, I thought the sources useful for the game, and the topic in general.


While I can't see any Christian rulers having a major problem with this charitable work - provided it doesn't look too suspicious - I'd not downplay the supernatural hurdles such an endeavour is going to produce. There's all manner of fae critters that lurk around the periphery of family units, and an orphanage is going to be a juicy environment for such creatures. Furthermore, there's likely some space for demons to play as well. Less parental figures means less discipline means more opportunities for temptation.

I'd probably go that route rather than mundane troubles in many cases, simply because the mundane authorities are likely going to be best pleased with the PCs, rather than antagonistic. Unless the PCs are ... well ... you know what PCs can be like.

I recommend the book "The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance," by John Boswell.

Boswell's emphasis is on abandoned children rather than orphanages, but you can see how these topics overlap. His three chapters on the Early Middle Ages include a focus on oblation, the gifting of an unwanted child to the church, as well as the already-traditional ways in which children were given up and, sometimes, claimed by new families. There's a lot of demographic information you may find useful (how many orphans are there, exactly?) and plot hooks in this book, though it's certainly an academic treatise and can come off as both technical and dry. But you'll learn a lot about the middle ages and, let's face it, that's one of the reasons I play Ars Magica.

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Is the covenant obligated to run the orphanages, or just get them started and self sufficient?

Wealthy people make bequests to the church all the time, usually in return for prayers made for the dead, but not always. Approach the local church, explain that Saint X told you to build an orphanage in this city, provide some sort of income that is given to the church to support it and you are good to go. It is not even lying, just not providing all the details about why you feel obligated to do what the Saint asked..

Now, developing suitable sources of income for the orphanage without interfering with mundanes, that can be tricky.

Just to bump an ancient thread, this book I ended up finding and was extremely interesting to read. Byzantium used their orphanage in Constantinople as a form of University and Cultural assimilation facility and it lasted about a 1000 years.

It's called "The Orphans of Byzantium: Child Welfare in the Christian Empire" by Timothy S. Miller ... 0813213134

Thanks for the link - that looks like a really good read!

Care of orphans resides, in Catholic countries, with the local bishop. Theft of children from their overlords, which is what you are suggesting here in those areas where the lord has what in England is called "right of brood", is punishable as a property crime. If they don't have lords, then the bishop is their lord, and again, he has the right to their labour and the duty of their care. There's a bit of law about how the lord gets his peasant back, and how, or if...

Caring for children is not taking them. Now given that the orphanage will likely have some kind of hidden agenda (probably involving recruiting apprentices) it may well come to the point where that is an issue, but simply allowing homeless children to sleep in a building you own isn't going to raise issues with the authorities- if this were that much of an issue there would likely not be so many homeless children. Workhouses might exist that you would have to worry about competing with (or try cooperating with), but those were largely an institution of the industrial age.

I did wonder if this would happen. The thread, it's ALIVE!

And to that end...

If you imagine a scenario where kids are literally starving on the streets with no care, and you set up a place to care for them, then at that moment the 'official' carer-of-children has every right to complain about you impinging on their turf and stealing their stuff. It doesn't matter that without your action there would have been no value or even recognition of the problem.

Unfortunately this attitude remains true today, as is evidenced by restaurants trying to sue dumpster-divers for theft.

Timothy also raises a good point. Christian values (especially relevant to the time period) stipulated that orphans go into the care of living family members. Where no living family members are available, the orphans go into the care of the local bishop. This existing structure leaves little room for formal orphanages outside of large cities (hence why Constantinople has a system) or in the aftermath of wars.

Most of the people in medieval foundling houses aren't orphans: they are children of the destitute. True "orphanages" in the modern sense are later than 1220.

The right to deal with the issue lies with the bishop in most places. Eventually some cities take that over. London, for example, had laws about the placemenent of stray children.

How whichever lord deals with it is a matter for stories, but you don't get to just care for stray children. They (or, at least their potential to grow and then labour) are the possessions of powerful people. Particularly if they are Jews, in which case, for example in England, the king's brother owns the right to farm (that is, profit from) anything they do, from birth.

Odds are really that if you set up a house in say Paris where you simply took in stray Children that nobody in the church or government would even notice. There is a reason these children fell through the cracks to begin with.
Now yes, if they notice and decide to object this can be an issue, but it is not an inherent problem but a conditional one.

Various habitual/career exploiters of children might object, and take direct or indirect action.

Well... yes.

If you operate in secret via methods that either won't be noticed or can't be traced to you, you can do as you please.

Which is true of literally any illegal / quasi-legal activity.

Noticeable is a sliding scale which also depends on how much attention is being paid. If the authorities are ignoring homeless children and allowing them to roam the streets except when they chase them away from the nicer parts of town then as long as you don't hire a town crier or hang out a sign "Orphans welcome!" you will probably be beneath their notice. If they are rounding up children for workhouses then you probably won't unless you take steps to not be noticed.
Also the laws as practiced will vary from place to place, so trying to make a universal statement about who the children belong to is not really going to cover every situation...
Orphanages as e think of them were not founded until the 18th century, and while children could certainly be left in the care of the church (Fredrick II was left in the care of the Pope to ensure he would make it to an age where he could rule), it was not always automatic (this was in fact part of his mother's will), the research here indicates that in Medieval England Wardships were assigned on an individual basis and those who did not have economically privileged adults to look after them were largely ignored, and their protection was not in fact claimed by anyone as a matter of law. Meanwhile another site describes multiple occasions in France and specifically Paris where infants are left lying about in hopes that someone will find and take care of them. I will be noted from one account that simply abandoning ones child in this context was not illegal, despite the fact there was no guarantee that anybody would take in the child and raise it. I think it is safe to say that despite what technicalities we might derive from the listed rights of lords, the governments of the time generally simply did not care.