Forest of Galtres Society

An Application of Leeches

March 20, 2008

Maurice Taylor’s talk to Forest of Galtres Society on ‘Poverty and Health in Medieval Times’ on Thursday 13th March 2008 was not for the faint-hearted. Being ill then was quite different to now. If you did not recover after blood-letting and amputations without anaesthetics, it was because of obstinacy in you, the sufferer. The cure of souls was the concern of the Church, and the cure of bodies was ancillary to that. Plagues spread across continents and the ravages of the Black Death decimated entire communities. Hospitality was offered to diseased people in large unventilated and filthy halls where beds could have as many as six people in each one, not all of whom might be alive. The care offered in such places was minimal, and Spital, the name sometimes given to these communities where religious people cared for the souls of the sick and so, Maurice told us, that only 20% actually died.

The images from books, from paintings and from sculpture showed some of the, to modern eyes, very strange ways of determining outcome for a sick man. The Caladrius bird was one omen. If the bird looked away from the man on his deathbed, so the Bestiary says, the man would succumb. If the bird looked at the man lying there, the man would survive. At Alne Church in the arch of the South Porch there is a stone carving of the bird standing on the bed of the patient. The carving dates from the mid twelfth century and is shown in the illustration. Even though the stone is eroded, the bird can be seen to be looking at the patient.

Maurice Taylor’s lecture concluded the Society’s Winter Lecture Programme on a subject which drew a good audience and made all those present very pleased not to be living in medieval times.

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