Along with caring for the sick, an early modern infirmary also accommodated orphans and beneficiaries. Beneficiaries were typically older people, who were cared for until their dying days in exchange for payment or even free of charge. The cost of maintaining a beneficiary depended on the age and specific needs of the buyer, and could be paid for in cash and/or in the form of furniture, houses, commodities, bonds, or, occasionally, through work performances.
The “Heiliggeist”-Infirmary of St. Gallen accommodated three different categories of beneficiaries. Those who were penniless received a benefice for the ill, which – derived from the medieval German word “siech” (sick) – was known as a “Siechenpfrund.” The provided meals mainly consisted of porridge, which lacked vitamins and still caused deficiency-based ailments in the 18th century. For the so-called “Mittelpfrund,” i.e. middle-class/ average benefices, provisions were slightly better, but recipients were required to pay a levy in return. The “Herrenpfründer,” who comprised the noblest sinecures, received the best care. Their food was enriched with meat and fish, and included a certain amount of wine every day. Only on ecclesiastical holidays could all beneficiaries expect a more diversified meal, as indicated by the dining regulations from 1667.
In addition to varying provisions, each category of beneficiaries was also subjected to different accommodations. While the penniless and middle-class beneficiaries slept in large halls or rooms with multiple people, the wealthiest beneficiaries received their own rooms.