Throughout the semester we have covered a large array of subjects. We have learned about the architecture of castles and cathedrals and the geography of England, Wales, and Scotland. My personal favorite though was learning about the social aspects of Medieval England by reading The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer. This book was written to explain the social and home life of people living in the fourteenth century. It covered such things as entertainment, food, travel, health, and many, many more. The chapter I found most interesting was the chapter over health and hygiene. As a biology major and having just finished microbiology (essentially the study of disease causing microbes) here at Wartburg, it was very interesting to see just how terrible their hygiene and understanding of health was.
The part that stuck out the most to me was that they had no understanding of how disease spread. They simply related sickness to being damned by God, or even that sickness could be caused by certain planets. They assumed if an entire family got sick with the plague it was not due to being in close proximity to each other, but that the entire family was being punished by God. It is actually likely that the average life expectancy of those living in a monastery was 5 years shorter than those not living in a monastery, due to the close living quarters. But some people of that time actually did do one good thing, they washed their hands before and after each meal, which helped limit spread of disease.
Even though they did not understand the spread of disease they did help themselves by making people suffering with leprosy have to dress and act in a certain way, but because they thought they were damned by God and not because they believed they were contagious. They made all people suffering from leprosy wear a covering cloak, ring a bell wherever they went, and referred to them as the living dead.
Physician John Mirfield had an interesting way of deciding the prognosis of his patients. He would add up numbers like the day the patient arrived, their birthday, and other miscellaneous numbers, and if the number came out to be even the patient would die and if the number came out to be odd they would live. Many physicians would base their diagnoses and treatment off of somewhat irrelevant things. Two people could come in with the same symptoms and illness, but get totally different treatments. Physicians usually based their treatment off of such things as appearance, smell, and color of bodily fluids such as blood, urine, and stool, even if theses bodily fluids were not directly correlated to their illness.
This is just a few of the many things learned throughout this semester, but by far one of my favorites.
Until next time,