An almoner (/ -/,) is a chaplain or church officer who originally was in charge of distributing money to the deserving poor. The title almoner has to some extent fallen out of use in English, but its equivalents in other languages are often used for many pastoral functions exercised by chaplains or pastors. The word derives from the Ancient Greek: ἐλεημοσύνη eleēmosynē (alms), via the popular Latin almosinarius.
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Christians have historically been encouraged to donate one-tenth of their income as a tithe to their church and additional offerings as needed for the poor. The first deacons, mentioned in Acts 6:1–4, dealt with the distribution of the charity of the early Christian churches to needy members. Popes, bishops and Christian monarchs and organizations have since employed their own officers to organize their donations to the poor and needy. Such donations were referred to as alms and the officers as almoners and the position was one of considerable status.
Roman Catholic Church
The papal almoner, formally titled the "Almoner of His Holiness", is responsible for performing works of mercy on behalf of the pope. He is one of a small number of Vatican officials who continue in office when a pope dies or resigns. Until June 2022, he was a member of the papal household; since then he heads the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, an administrative unit of the Roman Curia. Cardinal Konrad Krajewski has held this post since late 2013.
UK royal household
Today in the United Kingdom, the office of Lord High Almoner still exists in the royal household and the holder of the office is responsible, amongst other things, for organizing the ceremony of the Crown's annual distribution of Maundy money. Associated with the almoner's office is the grand almoner, a hereditary title in the hands of the Marquess of Exeter.
French royal household
Livery companies and Masonic lodges
The almoner also remains an active and important office in the livery companies of the City of London. In Masonic lodges, the almoner's duty is to oversee the needs of the brethren within his lodge. He is the contact for charity and looks after the welfare of the members, including visits to the sick, aged and infirm.
The title almoner was also used for a hospital official who interviews prospective patients to qualify them as indigent. It was later applied to the officials who were responsible for patient welfare and after-care. This position evolved into the modern profession of medical social work. Lady almoners existed in the UK from 1895 to the termination of the private medical system in 1948; their task was to determine the patients' ability to contribute towards their own medical care.
- "almoner". The Chambers Dictionary (9th ed.). Chambers. 2003. ISBN 0-550-10105-5.
- Harper, Douglas. "almoner". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- Universi Dominici gregis, 22
- O'Connell, Gerard (6 August 2013). "Pope tells new Almoner: 'Do this work with a lot of imagination'". La Stampa. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
- Cullen, L. T. (1 October 2013). "The First Lady Almoner: The Appointment, Position, and Findings of Miss Mary Stewart at the Royal Free Hospital, 1895-99". Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. 68 (4): 551–582. doi:10.1093/jhmas/jrs020. PMC 3792647. PMID 22474098.
- "Paying for healthcare: Life in Britain before the 'free' NHS".