Vol. 20 No. 1 (2016): Journal of Nursing Pensar Enfermagem
Original Articles

The Infirmarius, the Medieval forerunner of the Enfermeiro (Nurse)

António Carlos do Carmo Carvalho
Professor Coordenador, Escola Superior de Saúde do IP Beja

Published 2016-08-07


  • nursing history,
  • nurse,
  • infirmarius,
  • monastic

How to Cite

do Carmo Carvalho, A. C. (2016). The Infirmarius, the Medieval forerunner of the Enfermeiro (Nurse). Pensar Enfermagem, 20(1), 63–78. https://doi.org/10.56732/pensarenf.v20i1.115


It is usual to find the etymology of the English term “nurse” as suitable for the Portuguese word “enfermeiro”. But the former comes from the Latin nutrix and the later comes from the Medieval Latin infirmarius. Additionally, the nursing historiography has not taken into account the polysemic chronology of the term “nurse”, as well as its socio-organizational nature, which has caused some distortions regarding the profession’s origin. So we have conducted this study with the aims of: obtaining evidence for the time and context of the appearance of the infirmarius, as a forerunner of the “enfermeiro” (nurse); and determining the tasks attached to this monastic occupation, in the former Western Roman Empire European region. Through a historical approach we have analyzed 26 monastic rules and 7 monastic customaries, from VI to XII centuries. We found that: Ordo Cluniacensis, from Bernard of Cluny, ca. 1070, has the first reference to the infirmarius, as officium monasticum, and the explanation of its occupational tasks; the labour functional structure associated with the infirmarius comprised infirmary management, hygiene and comfort, psychological support, therapeutics, occupation and dead care; the first reference to the Portuguese word “enfermeiro” is from 1268, accordingly a document associated to Ordem de Avis, of Cistercian obedience. We concluded that: “nurse” doesn´t always means “enfermeiro”; the history of “nurse” is different from the history of “enfermeiro”; the infirmarius was a socio-organizational
occupation, that has been recognized since XI century, with a functional structure similar to that one of the present enfermeiro (nurse).


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