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Medicine in the medieval period - The Black Death

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Rachel Preston MEDICINE IN THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD The Black Death In the 14th Century, trade around Europe was increasing ships regularly and travelled from the Mediterranean to other parts of Europe. In 1348 one ship brought a devastating plague to England. Source 1-Written by a monk from Malmesbury in Wiltshire, in the 1350's: "In 1348, at about the feast of the Translation of St Thomas the Martyr (7 July) the cruel pestilence, hateful to all future ages, arrived from the countries across the sea on the South coast of England at the Port called Melcombe in Dorset. Travelling all over the South country it wretchedly killed innumerable people in Dorset, Devon and Somerset...next it came to Bristol, where very few were left alive, and then travelled Northwards, leaving not a city, a town, a village, or even, except rarely, a house, without killing most or all of the people there so that over England as a whole a fifth of the men, women and children were carried to burial. As a result there was such a shortage of people that hardly enough living to look after the sick and bury the dead." According to modern historians Source 1 underestimates the effects of the BLACK DEATH. It is now estimated that over 40% of the people in England died. Towns and Ports were hardest hit. Villages and farms in the hills were the safest. ...read more.


The brewing process involves boiling, which sterilises the beer. Some town corporations (councils) tried to regulate against the most gross practices. Without real understanding of the risks there was little will and less financial support to do anything effective. Plague and epidemics led to some effects being made, but usually too late. Medieval doctors and surgeons might have followed Greek and Roman practice, but alas, the same wasn't true of their governments. Medieval towns were filthy, but in most cases nothing was done about it. Christianity and Islam - Did it help or hinder? Christianity was the religion of the Roman Empire. Surprisingly it did not decline when the Roman Empire feel apart. Instead it grew stronger. The Christian church taught that it was part of people's religious duty to car for the sick. But until about 1200 it did little to help in the study of medicine. St. Bernard, founder of the Cistercian Monasteries in the 12th century said "To buy drugs or consult with physicians doesn't fit with religion." Faith, prayer, and the help of the saints seemed much more likely to be effective. So there was hardly any organised study of medicine or training of doctors in Christian Europe until about 1200. This lack of doctors was probably not very important for most ordinary people. They continued to rely on traditional charms and herbs, and to care within the family or the village as they always had done. ...read more.


The influence of wise women herbalists on the apothecaries led the Apothecaries' guild to admit women. This ancient connection was used much later by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson to allow women back into medicine. In the middle ages the church allowed only men to train as physicians. In the 1600's the church also took over the increasing of all healers. It did not give licenses to wise women or village healers because they were often suspected of being witches. Women were barred from going to university and so could not get a degree to become surgeons. Despite these obstacles a handful of women fought for the right to become doctors. Hospitals The Christian church taught that it was part of people's religious duty to care for the sick, but it was not until the 1100's that it actually took many practical measures to encourage this teaching. In the eleventh century the church started to open up medical schools where the ideas of Galen were taught. It also set up hospitals run by nuns and monks. These were not hospitals as we understand them today. Out of the 1200 medieval hospitals identified in England and Wales, only around 10% of the, actually cared for the sick. The others were called hospitals because they provided 'hospitality' for visitors. Most of the hospitals in England and Wales, which did care for the sick, were founded in the 1100's and 1200's. Some hospitals specialised in certain kinds of patients. Such as 'un married pregnant women', 'poor and silly persons' and 'the blind, deaf and mute'. ...read more.

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