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The modern Christian church does not condone prostitution and would never consider getting involved with it. However, in 12 th century England, a borough of London known as Southwark had eighteen licensed brothels with about one thousand prostitutes employed therein!
All of these brothels were run by the church and brought in large sums of money for building churches and other ecclesiastical duties. The other theory is that the name comes from the Norman French word Estuwes which means stove.
This refers to the stoves used in the bathhouses to produce steam. During the Roman occupation of what is now England, Southwark was an important part of the Roman town of Londinium. This was also the site of the first known brothel in what would become England. After the Romans left in the 5 th century, many churches were built in the area creating a safe place for prostitutes, criminals, and lepers.
Southwark was just far enough away from London that it was out of sight but not inaccessible. The area had brothels for several centuries. Officially, the church could not condone prostitution. However, there were no rules against them profiting from it. Unlike the Roman times, prostitutes were no longer sex slaves. Limits were placed on how much they could borrow from their employer to prevent them from becoming too indebted leading to enslavement.
Similarly, brothels were no longer prisons but rather boarding houses where the rooms were rented to prostitutes without board. Like other legitimate businesses, brothels were closed on holy days to encourage the women to attend services. Those employed in the brothel were refused Christian burial but could still receive Holy Communion.