The Healing Church
The Healing Church is the institution that, while it doesn't technically rule over Yharnam, serves as the City's anchor and structure. It is from the Healing Church that the art of Blood Ministration, the art that Yharnam would become famous for, was first brought. With the use of the Healing Church's special blood they were able to cure any disease, forming a religion devoted to the worship of Gods and Blood. When tales of the curative properties of Yharnam Blood spread, those suffering from incurable diseases often traveled to Yharnam in order to seek out their last chance at salvation. The PC Hunter was one such individual, according to promotional information leading up to the release of Bloodborne. In search of Blood that can cure any disease, the PC travels to Yharnam. But what is the Healing Church? Where does it come from? And, most importantly, what is the secret behind their special blood?
The first sane member of the Healing Church the PC Hunter encounters is Alfred the Executioner. From Alfred, the Hunter learns more about the roots of the Healing Church: ”The Healing Church is the foundation of blood healing. Well, I'm a simple hunter, quite unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the institution. But I have heard that the holy medium of blood healing is venerated in the main cathedral. And that councillors of the old church reside in the high stratum of the Cathedral Ward. […] The tomb of the gods, carved out below Yharnam, should be familiar to every hunter. Well, once a group of young Byrgenwerth scholars discovered a holy medium deep within the tomb. This led to the founding of the Healing Church, and the establishment of blood healing."
The short story is that a group of scholars in Byrgenwerth discovered blood of incredible power in the tombs underneath, specifically, they discovered Old Blood. The Old Blood and knowledge of the Great Ones that existed led to a revolution in the college's theories and experiments. But Master Willem, head of Byrgenwerth College, disagreed with the idea of using the Old Blood of the Great Ones to advance humanity.
This led to the Byrgenwerth Schism, in which a group of scholars led by Laurence left Byrgenwerth and founded the Healing Church. There are four individuals whom we know were founders of the Church, though there may very well have been unnamed others: Laurence, Gehrman, Micolash, and Maria. Laurence became the First Vicar, founding a new religion and promising a cure to any disease through the use of his miraculous Blood Ministration. A note found in the Grand Cathedral reads: "Heir to the ritual of blood, purveyor of ministration. Place your hand on the altar's sacred covering, and inscribe Master Laurence's adage upon your flesh." Laurence and his Blood Ministration brought a new era into Yharnam, a culture of Blood Worship spreading through the population.
But with the tainted blood of the Great Ones flowing through human veins, the Scourge of the Beast came to Yharnam. Those who had been ministered by the Old Blood were susceptible to coming under the effects of the Scourge. In response to this, Gehrman, one of the men who had sided with Laurence in the Byrgenwerth Schism, founded the Workshop. Located in a hidden area of the Upper Cathedral Ward, the Workshop was a place of training of elite warriors, dispatched by the Church to hunt the beasts and prevent panic from spreading through the population. The Hunter Attire reads: "One of the standard articles of hunter attire fashioned at the workshop. A fine piece of hunter attire that provides stable defense to anyone facing Yharnam's beastly threat. Allows one to stalk beasts unannounced, by cover of night."
Originally, the Workshop was likely a secret institution. The Hunters wore no symbols and had no uniform, save for the Saw Hunter Badge which each kept in order to identify one another:"Badge crafted long ago at the Workshop. Attests to one's prowess as a hunter of beasts. The Workshop is gone, and no group recognizes this meaningless badge." They operated in the cover of darkness, disposing of Yharnamites who had succumbed to the Scourge of the Beast, likely as more of a cover-up than anything; anything to prevent the public becoming aware that the blood they were being administered was turning them into monsters.
According to Maria’s Hunting Attire: "Among the first hunters, all students of Gehrman, was the lady hunter Maria. Maria is distantly related to the undead queen, but had great admiration for Gehrman, unaware of his curious mania." Born in Cainhurst, Maria was a beautiful woman, no doubt even by Cainhurst standards. While she was a relative of the Queen, to the aristocratic Nobles of Cainhurst this likely meant very little. No doubt every Noble was dying to tell everyone they knew about how they were Annalise’s twelfth cousin seventh removed, and so the relation probably didn’t mean much. Unlike the rest of her people, however, Maria disliked the use of blood-weaponry, as stated by the Rakuyo: “This sword feeds not off blood, but instead demands great dexterity. Lady Maria was fond of this aspect of the Rakuyo, as she frowned upon blood blades, despite being a distant relative of the queen.” However after the events that took place at the Fishing Hamlet, Maria could no longer bare to wield a weapon. As she and Gehrman retrieved the Orphan for Byrgenwerth, Maria threw Rakuyo into the Hamlet’s well: “One day, she abandoned her beloved Rakuyo, casting it into a dark well, when she could stomach it no longer.”
We as players first hear of Lady Maria from the patients in the Nightmare Research Hall. They call out to her and speak of her with genuine admiration and even love. They ask her to hold their hand or to help them, to care for them. The Balcony Key description reads: "Key to the balcony on the first floor of the Research Hall. Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower gave this to the patient, Adeline. Maria had hoped Adeline would find comfort in the faint breeze that carried the scent of flowers from the outside, but Adeline couldn't fathom her intentions."
It seems that Maria genuinely cared for the patients of the Church’s experiments, as she went out of her way to try and make Adeline more comfortable in her suffering. While the experiments themselves were gruesome, there’s no evidence that there was any malicious intent towards the patients themselves. Though it might be their madness, the patients all seem to be there willingly, even apologizing for having been failures in the experimentation.
But eventually, Maria died. Her passing marks the end of an era, the beginning of the transition from the old Church and the old Hunters into the new ones, the ones that we find ourselves engaging in the present. But how did Maria die? When we meet her, she is noticeably dead, at least as dead as a consciousness can be. The evidence seems to point towards a slit throat, as the blood on her blouse has traveled down from her neck. In addition, during her boss fight she visibly stabs herself in the throat in order to initiate the second phase of the battle. This seems to point towards Maria’s death as an act of suicide, slitting her own throat.
Everything changed with Old Yharnam. Ashen Blood was a horrible epidemic that spread like wildfire. Naturally, in order to cure the disease, Blood Ministration was used in excess, on each and every one of the victims. This would lead to the Scourge, as referenced by the antidote tablets: "Small medicinal tablets that counteract poison. Used to treat ashen blood, the baffling sickness that ravaged Old Yharnam long ago. These tablets only provide short-term relief. The ashen blood ailment eventually triggered the spread of the beastly scourge."
After Old Yharnam, the Scourge could no longer be kept a secret. The Workshop was disbanded and replaced with a new group that would become the Healing Church Hunters, led by the Hunter Ludwig. The Workshop was no longer necessary, and was sealed away. It is likely at this time that the Healing Church took more control over Yharnam, the Church effectively acting as the governing body of the City. With the Church firmly seated in power as the saviors who had brought Blood Ministration to Yharnam, the Choir was formed in the upper reaches of the city.
By now, the Healing Church was being run not by Laurence and Gehrman, but by the generation who came after them. The Choir ruled over the Church while Ludwig's Hunters formed the new ranks of Church's police force. The School of Mensis remained, but likely grew further and further apart from the Church over time. Likely dissatisfied with the progress of research that had been made since the Church split from Byrgenwerth, the Choir began to research the blood of the Great Ones.
The Choir Garb states:"Members of the Choir are both the highest-ranking clerics of the Healing Church, and scholars who continue the work that began at Byrgenwerth." It is uncertain exactly how much of the Church's religion was merely used as a figurehead. It's not clear if the Choir truly believed that the Great Ones were Gods, or if they simply used that as a way to legitimize their research. They certainly acknowledged that the Great Ones, if not Gods, were certainly God-like. The level of detail devoted to the sacred symbols and carvings in the Church can only display a veneration of the Great Ones as superior beings, specifically the Formless Great One, Oedon. To get a closer look at the Choir's motivations and research, let's take a moment to analyze Doctor Iosefka, a character whom the PC Hunter encounters very early on in the story.
Bloodborne begins with the PC Hunter awakening in the first floor of Doctor Iosefka's clinic after receiving their very first blood ministration. Iosefka is the very first NPC that the Hunter can encounter in Bloodborne; after the Hunter dies to the Wolfbeast and is sent to the Hunter's Dream, returning with weaponry marking them a Hunter, if the Player travels back up the stairs towards the clinic they will encounter the door locked and barred. Through a crack in the door we see a woman dressed in white, with whom we can speak. "Are you… out on the hunt? Then I'm very sorry, but… I cannot open this door. I am Iosefka. The patients here in my clinic must not be exposed to infection. I know that you hunt for us, for our town, but I'm sorry. Please. This is all that I can do." Iosefka will assist the Hunter by providing them with her specially concentrated Blood, capable of fully healing the Hunter. "The product of a slow and careful refinement process, this rare blood vial appears to be a clinic original." The Hunter can return to Iosefka at any time to collect more Blood, but can only carry a single vial at the time. This changes, however, after the death of Father Gascoigne.
This time, when the Hunter comes to Iosefka, there will be no blood provided. Instead, the Doctor will ask the Hunter to direct any individuals they come across to her clinic, so that they can be treated and cured. From this point onwards, the Doctor speaks with a slightly deeper tone of voice, and in fact is voiced completely by a different person. While Iosefka's voice actress is credited as being Jenny Funnel, there is a second credit to an Imposter Doctor, credited to an actress named Lucy Briggs-Owen. From this point onwards, Iosefka will ask the Hunter to bring her more and more people, assuring that they are being taken proper care of. As a reward for the Hunter if the Hunter begins to bring her people, she will eventually start providing the player with Blue Elixirs. Blue Elixir is described as a:"Dubious liquid medicine used in strange experiments conducted by high ministers of the Healing Church." A rather chilling item indeed for a common blood ministration doctor to be carrying.
But it isn't unless the Hunter finds the back entrance to the Clinic, accessible by climbing up an adjacent building connected to the Forbidden Woods, that the truth of Iosefka's research can be discovered. Here, the results of the research is discovered. Any NPCs that the Hunter sent in the past to Iosefka's clinic will be found, transformed and twisted into Celestials, blue-skinned Kin of the Cosmos. If the Hunter sent nobody to the Clinic, they will only find a single Celestial, located in the Sickroom. Upon its death, it drops one of Iosefka's Blood Vials, possibly one that was being saved for the Hunter upon the player's return. These are presumably the remains of the true Iosefka whom the player meets at the beginning of the game. As the Hunter travels upstairs towards the top of the clinic, one of two events will take place.
If the Hunter goes to the top of the the clinic before the Blood Moon has risen, the Imposter Iosefka will attack the Hunter. She wields a Threaded Cane and a Repeating Pistol, and if her health is low enough will even attack the Hunter with A Call Beyond, the ultimate weapon of the Healing Church: "One of the secret rites of the Choir. Long ago, the Healing Church used phantasms to reach a lofty plane of darkness, but failed to make contact with the outer reaches of the cosmos. The rite failed to achieve its intended purpose, but instead created a small exploding star, now a powerful part of the Choir's arsenal. At times, failure is the mother of invention." The False Iosefka is one of four NPCs who wield A Call Beyond, the other three being Micolash, the Forgotten Madman, and Yurie, the Choir Member found in the Byrgenwerth Mansion. We can infer from this revelation that the False Iosefka is a member of the Choir, relocating from the Upper Cathedral Ward to Iosefka's Clinic in order to continue her research, possibly because of the fact that due to the spread of the Scourge of Beasts the Cathedral Ward is no longer a safe place to operate. Upon killing the False Iosefka, she will drop a powerful Oedon Writhe rune. Interestingly enough, the Hunter can locate a weaker version of the Oedon Writhe rune by killing Adella the Nun, or by looting it off of the Celestial she becomes if the Hunter sent her to Iosefka's Clinic. This connection only reinforces the False Iosefka's affiliation with the Church, and that she held a rank of higher importance than a nun. But this is only one of two possible events that can occur in Iosefka's clinic.
If the Hunter goes to the top of the clinic after the Blood Moon has risen, they will find her on all fours, perched on one of the operating tables. ''God I'm nauseous… Have you ever felt this? It's progressing. I can see things… I knew it, I'm different. I'm no beast… I… Oh… God, it feels awful… but, it proves that I'm chosen. Don't you see? How they writhe, writhe inside my head… It's… rather… rapturous…'' With enough time to conclude her research, Iosefka has begun her ascension. Killing her can drop what I believe is the Orphan’s umbilical cord, which was recovered by the Choir.
But what was this research? What did the Choir do? How did they do it? This brings us the final topic of our current analysis: Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos. Ebrietas is found in the depths of the Orphanage, described as: "Key to the Orphanage, birthplace of the Choir. The Orphanage, shadowed by the Grand Cathedral, was a place of scholarship and experimentation, where young orphans became potent unseen thinkers for the Healing Church. The Choir, that would later split the Healing Church, was a creation of the Orphanage." We have established previously that it was originally the School of Mensis which performed research for the Church in the secrecy of Yahar’gul, however with the growth of the Church's power after the cleansing of Old Yharnam there was no longer a need for secrecy and a new effort was put forward into spreading the Old Blood. It would be the Choir who would fulfill this need, with the Orphanage as their laboratory.
Note that the Orphanage is located directly behind the Grand Cathedral. We can recall Gilbert mentioning that:"Deep within the Cathedral Ward is the old grand cathedral. …the birthplace of the Healing Church's special blood." But the Cathedral is not the source of the blood. While it is provided to the public from the Grand Cathedral, it actually originates in the Orphanage. From Ebrietas, and the Celestials. Ebrietas is the left-behind Great One, whatever that means, and communed and worked with the Healing Church in their research. We find multiple references to this.
"One of the secret rites of the Choir, high-ranking members of the Healing Church. Use phantasms, the invertebrates known to be augurs of the Great Ones, to partially summon abandoned Ebrietas. One of the few rites that allow one to directly utilize the power of the Great Ones, and evidence that the Choir had approached the eldritch Truth." - Augur of Ebrietas
"Great chalices unlock deeper reaches of the labyrinth. The Great Isz Chalice became the cornerstone of the Choir, the elite delegation of the Healing Church. It was also the first Great Chalice brought back to the surface since the time of Byrgenwerth, and allowed the Choir to have audience with Ebrietas." - Great Isz Chalice