Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden
Discusses the uses of herbs, including medicinal, during the Middle Ages.

The Decameron
By Boccacio, at the Medieval Sourcebook site, this document describes the beginnings of the Black Death.

Medicine and Biology
An exhibit on medieval medicine from the Vatican Library.

Medieval Miracles of Healing
An essay on the connection between spiritual healing and disease in the middle ages.

Medicine was often a risky business. Bloodletting was a popular method of restoring a patient's health and "humors." Early surgery, often done by barbers without anesthesia, must have been excruciating.

Who was Treated and Who Did the Treating
Medical treatment was available mainly to the wealthy, and those living in villages rarely had the help of doctors, who practiced mostly in the cities and courts. Remedies were often herbal in nature, but also included ground earthworms, urine, and animal excrement. Many medieval medical manuscripts contained recipes for remedies that called for hundreds of therapeutic substances--the notion that every substance in nature held some sort of power accounts for the enormous variety of substances. Many treatments were administered by people outside the medical tradition. Coroners' rolls from the time reveal how lay persons often made sophisticated medical judgments without the aid of medical experts. From these reports we also learn about some of the major causes of death.

Natural functions, such as sneezing, were thought to be the best way of maintaining health. When there was a build-up of any one humor, or body fluid, it could be disposed of through sweat, tears, feces, or urine. When these natural systems broke down, illness occurred. Medieval doctors stressed prevention, exercise, a good diet, and a good environment. One of the best diagnostic tools was uroscopy, in which the color of the patient's urine was examined to determine the treatment. Other diagnostic aids included taking the pulse and collecting blood samples. Treatments ranged from administering laxatives and diuretics to fumigation, cauterization, and the taking of hot baths and/or herbs.

Performed as a last resort, surgery was known to be successful in cases of breast cancer, fistula, hemorrhoids, gangrene, and cataracts, as well as tuberculosis of the lymph glands in the neck (scrofula). The most common form of surgery was bloodletting; it was meant to restore the balance of fluids in the body. Some of the potions used to relieve pain or induce sleep during the surgery were themselves potentially lethal. One of these consisted of lettuce, gall from a castrated boar, briony, opium, henbane, and hemlock juice--the hemlock juice could easily have caused death.

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The Middle Ages is inspired by programs from The Western Tradition.


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