From having a hole bored into your head to placing leaves under your pillow at night, medieval healthcare was weird and wonderful. We are fortunate to live in a world today where anaesthetics are available, but back in medieval times people were not so lucky.
Here are 10 facts about medicine and healthcare in medieval times.
1. Cataract surgery in the Early Middle Ages was very painful
Surgeons used a painful process called ‘needling’. With no anaesthetics, the doctor inserted a needle into the edge of a person’s cornea.
2. Some Anglo-Saxon medicinal remedies have been proven as effective cures…
This includes the use of garlic, wine and oxgall for an eye salve.
3. …but they also had remedies for elves, devils and night goblins
It is a fascinating example of how there was little distinction between magic and medicine in Anglo-Saxon times.
4. A surgeon might choose to bore a hole in your head
Originating from ancient times, the method was called trepanning. In medieval times it was practised as a cure for various illnesses: epilepsy, migraines and various mental disorders for instance. Trepanning was used as late as the 20th century as a medical technique.
5. Some medical remedies featured charms
They required the invalid to write something down, eat a piece of writing, or eat from a vessel bearing a special inscription.
6. Much medieval medicine originated in ancient Greece
The ancient Greek physician Galen became referred to as the “Medical Pope of the Middle Ages” while Hippocrates was also important.
7. Plant and animal-based remedies featured prominently in medieval
Parsley was recorded as the remedy for a snake-bite.
8. …especially rosemary
In medieval times, Rosemary was considered a wonderplant that could cure various illnesses and keep someone healthy. In the Zibaldone da Canal, an early fourteenth-century Venetian book, 23 uses of Rosemary are listed for various uses such as,
take the leaves of the rosemary and put it in your bed, and you will not have nightmares.
9. It was believed that visiting Thomas Becket’s shrine could cure an illness
Situated in Canterbury Cathedral, Saint Thomas Becket’s tomb became the most popular shrine in England during medieval times. It was also much easier to reach than making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
10. English and French monarchs claimed they had healing hands
It was called the royal touch and it continued down into the Renaissance Period.
Header image credit: Physician letting blood from a patient. British Library / Commons.