Medieval Techniques of Healing Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1638 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Medicine

Medieval Medicine

Many people mistakenly assume that little progress was made in the sciences during the Medieval era. Techniques of healing may have seemed crude and often associated with a connection between faith and the body the "science" or professionalism of medicine actually have origins here in the medieval era. (Newman 241) Healing began to be associated with a separate and possibly better environment, the development of hospitals and professional care providers began during this period, with the development of monastic hospitals. ("A Short History..." NP) Techniques of healing, like those outlined in Galen, Hippocrates and other medical experts were perpetuated through the period and are frequently seen as tremendously cruel by comparison to later techniques, yet this is largely a perceptual issue. Bleeding was common as a medical intervention and yet traditional herbal medicine was also commonly used, and often very effectively. (Newman 241)

Although medicine and surgery were related, medieval practitioners drew a distinct line between them. Generally, physicians treated problems inside the body, and surgeons dealt with wounds, fractures, dislocations, urinary problems, amputations, skin diseases, and syphilis. They also bled patients when directed by physicians.

Many of today's surgeons can trace the origins of their specialties to the teeth-pullers, bone-setters, oculists, and midwives of the middle ages. ("A Short History..."NP)

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Healing was in a serious transitional period, where the Roman Catholic Church had a great deal of influence over what was considered legitimate and what was considered evil.

Ziegler 214) Yet it must also be noted that the practice of medicine as a science with the utilization of early anesthesia (markedly dangerous but still used) and herbal or natural medicine, to precipitate healing.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Medieval Techniques of Healing Assignment

Those who rejected science and listened to their faith often utilized non-medical intervention. "Many people sought relief from their ills through meditation, prayer, pilgrimages, and other nonmedical methods." ("Medieval Medicine" NP) it was also during this period that the practice of medicine began to be an educated profession that was frequently driven by what was considered the macabre practice of dissection of the body, a trend that continued much longer than the medieval period. ("Medieval Medicine" NP)

There was also a perpetuation of the theory of the body as an element of the earth composed of four humors or fluids that determined the health and/or disease of the system.

The body was viewed as a part of the universe, a concept derived from the Greeks and Romans. Four humors, or body fluids, were directly related to the four elements: fire=yellow bile or choler; water=phlegm; earth=black bile; air=blood. These four humors had to be balanced. Too much of one was thought to cause a change in personality -- for example, too much black bile could create melancholy. ("What was it really..." NP)

These concepts are more elaborately explained within Newman's work (242-253). Medical techniques were then associated with attempts to restore the balances between these humors by various means. Cupping and bleeding, were frequently medical interventions of last resort, as preventative medicine was stressed and letting one's balances get so far out of order was considered unwise and dietary intervention was suggested frequently. (253-257) Yet it is also clear that with or without the consent or condemnation of the faith many individuals still relied upon traditional "Pagan" healing, which was both ceremonial and medical in nature. ("Medieval Medicine" NP)

Faith had a particularly strong hold on the development of medicine as a science and an educated profession yet it was occurring, regardless of the fact that medical technology was actually becoming more limited by virtue of the church's need to understand, control and advocate or eliminate certain practices as illegitimate or legitimate.

In education, too, religion played a major part; primary schools were situated on temple grounds, and were taught by priests. Higher education in literature, medicine, science, and philosophy was provided in the celebrated academy at Jund-i-Shapur in Susiana. The sons of feudal chiefs and provincial satraps often lived near the king, and were instructed with the princes of the royal family in a college attached to the court.16 (Durant, 1950, p. 138)

Those situations and circumstances which were recorded were therefore often subject to local, and restricted to the literate, which were frequently and almost exclusively associated with the church. (Newman 242)

Newman points out that surgery, considered a separate function than medicine was also a skilled practice, and that intervention was often successful. (256-258) as was noted previously surgery was associated not with illness but more often with open injury. ("A Short History..."NP) One point that many researchers and historians of medicine made is that surgery and medicine began to become collective when education became more prevalent and scientific and most importantly when the desperation of decades of plague diseases created a greater impetus for curing rather than creating causation for disease. There is a clear sense that the plague in many ways was a leveling factor, as individuals began to see that it was not a condemnation of sin but a contracted disease that did not effect one over another, based upon status or wealth.

The pressing problems of famine, epidemic disease, and social dislocation among the poor made resort to medical practitioners nearly impossible. When historians remark that there was little in medieval England that medicine actually could do for sick people, what they really mean is that medieval doctors had little in common with modern scientific practitioners. A very important point that is often forgotten applies to care for people living on the margins of society. There was quite a lot that medieval society could do for the hungry, the homeless, the crippled, the unwed mother, the aged, and the orphaned. Society could offer them food, shelter, and protection, which could make a difference between life and death for the needy. The mechanism for offering this sort of care in medieval England was Christian charity, more often than not through hospitals.

Getz 90)

Getz points out that the development of hospitals to treat, house and eventually cure the ills of people began during this period. They began to be associated with healing rather than alms giving or social security for the unwanted.

The medieval hospital had more in common with its linguistic cousins "hotel, " "hospice, " and "hospitality" than it did with the modern scientific hospital. Martha Carlin, in her survey of medieval English hospitals, found virtually no evidence of medical care offered by physicians and surgeons. Instead, she found that "treatment most likely to have been available to the sick in hospitals was bed rest, warmth, cleanliness, and an adequate diet." 30 These institutions, funded almost exclusively by charity, served lepers, the needy, the sick poor, the poor traveler, the unwed mother, and, very occasionally, the plague victim. 31 Some hospitals were devoted to the elderly 32 or to the insane. 33 Typically, these institutions were managed on a monastic model, with a strict regimen of diet and prayer, especially prayer for the soul of the institution's benefactor. 34

Getz 90)

Though Getz points out here that hospitals were not really medical institutions they are clearly the beginning of a development of hospitals used to treat the sick, rather than simply house them when no others were availed to do so.

Whatever the clinical failure or success of the Learned and Rational Doctor (which, as we have seen, cannot be part of this story), civil administrations ultimately came to see plague as an entity that travelled from town to town, often along trade routes, and they took practical measures to try to prevent this. From our point-of-view the failure of the learned physicians was to identify the plague, that is, to discover its proper ancient name. Only by doing this could they rapidly and completely draw it into the learned apparatus. They could not do so completely,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Medieval Techniques of Healing" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Medieval Techniques of Healing.  (2008, March 10).  Retrieved September 24, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Medieval Techniques of Healing."  10 March 2008.  Web.  24 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Medieval Techniques of Healing."  March 10, 2008.  Accessed September 24, 2021.