Reinier van Arkel

 

The mentally ill were mostly cared for by family or sheltered somewhere. It was only from the 15th century onwards that asylums for mentally ill were built, the so-called mad houses, like the Zinnelooshuis founded by Reinier van Arkel. These asylums were not yet focused on therapy and recovery.

“These madmen, who we must tie up, buckle and lock up.” Reinier van Arkel ordered the build of the first Zinnelooshuis, Home for the Mindless, in the Netherlands in his will in 1442. The term ‘home’ was somewhat euphemistic. As the memorial stone indicates, it was more like a prison. Three of the six insane people depicted on the memorial stone stick their heads through the cell and the other three are sitting in front of their cell. They apparently represent anger, apathy and despair. Home or prison, no treatment was offered.

Places of relief of this kind were established all over Europe in the 15th century. At the time, there were also monasteries where the mentally ill were received. Prior to this, the insane were almost solely taken care of by family, for better or for worse. After the Middle Ages, the mentally ill were accommodated all over the place. Institutions that only housed the mentally ill were rare.

According to some historians, mental homes like the one of Reinier van Arkel were so plentiful and widespread in the centuries that followed that one could say there was mass confinement of the insane. The middle classes, who had less and less patience for those who disturbed the peace, in this way apparently kept the mentally ill off the streets. Not everyone shares this interpretation. Many believe that there was not so much generalised confinement, except in France. One thing is certain: the relief centres at the time, which were usually private initiatives, only focused on detention and never on therapy or recovery.

According to some historians, mental homes like the one of Reinier van Arkel were so plentiful and widespread in the centuries that followed that one could say there was mass confinement of the insane.