Disease and Healing
by Mette Rolvung Olsen
In the middle ages, diseases was very normal in the everyday life, and counting in the children from the age of 0 to 3 years, into the calculation of the average population, the numbers would not be particularly high. The age of a man would approximately be around 30 years, and much lower for women, the cause of this may be due to numerous births of children, lactation periods and especially the many women who died in childbirth.
Every Christian man had a duty to provide care for the sick or the like, but the lack of doctors and knowledgeable people were so great, that ordinary peasants had to treat the illnesses, with the few resources they had, in the form of folk medicine. It would include natural medicine, with recipes handed down through generations, or pray to the many different saints, for instance, such as Sct. Rocchus.
Commonly you would find actual doctors at the royal courts. Although perhaps in more severe cases of illness seek help in a hospice or spital, which for most was either the first or last resort. Bozen also had such a spital ( Holy Spirit Spital ). It stood just below today’s Post Office, next to the Dominican Church.
When you talk about Spitals, it is worth mentioning the still existing Hospitaller Knighthood, which occurred around a thousand years ago to protect the hospices and spitals for the pilgrims in the Holy Land.
Excavations of skeletons shows that most people lived a very strenuous physical life that left its mark on both bones and teeth. Tooth decay has been observed in most sites, but also osteoarthritis has been a nuisance in most people in the Middle Ages.
The medical Art in the Middle Ages was based on ancient writings from ancient great physicians like Hippocrates ( 460-377 BC)! In the late 700s a monastery was founded in Salerno, south of Naples, which became the foundation for a medical school, where the art of medicine was taught.
The primary objective was to learn about the four liquids. It was believed that everything consisted of the four elements – earth, water, fire and air. These elements each had its counterpart heat – cold, moisture – drought. It was thought that air was warm and humid, the fire was hot and dry, the ground was cold and dry, water cold and moist. It was estimated that blood was like air.
Phlegm ( mucus ) was like water, yellow bile was like fire, and black bile was earth. These four fluids were to be balanced! Were they balanced then everything was in order, but if the amount of liquid were too large or small, then there was an imbalance in the liquid mixture, and thus the existence of disease. For example, if a fever was present you had to use a plant which in its medical way were cold and damp. Therefore, plants also had to be divided into four categories.