Part 1: The infirmary, nursing and diet
Reading immediately after supper, or drunkenness were just two of the things to be avoided if you did not want to damage your health according to advice in one of the cathedral’s late medieval monastic registers. These archive registers have a huge amount of information about life in the middle ages. They are currently being conserved. In this week’s blog- the first in a two part series- I will use these registers to look at the duties of an infirmarer, aspects of late medieval nursing care, and dietary advice at Worcester Cathedral’s Benedictine priory.
The monk in charge of medical care at Worcester was called the infirmarer. Together with his monastic brothers and lay assistants- the infirmary clerk, the washerwoman, and the groom of the infirmary, the infirmarer would have provided the daily nursing care and general administration of the infirmary, which was located on the west side of the cathedral. He also had to find money in his budget to maintain the fabric of the building, for example repairing the infirmary chapel windows in 1378-79. There was also an infirmary garden both for the benefit of the patients and for growing medicinal herbs.
The nursing care provided is not recorded in detail but it is known that very sick monks often stayed for weeks at a time in the infirmary. For example, in 1531-32, Brother John Crowle and Brother William Fordham required care for nineteen weeks and nine weeks respectively.
(A medieval feast from a woodcut of c.1517)
This monastic nursing care probably also included basic dietary advice. One of the Worcester Cathedral monastic archive registers gives details of certain food and drinks to have, and those to avoid.
Things that were good for you included bread that used pure flour and was not stale or old, the newly laid eggs of pheasants, hens, or partridges, fresh milk sometimes with sugar or mint leaves added to it for taste, poultry, venison, beef or pork, fish, figs, lettuces, grapes, parsley, mint, moderate amounts of good wine, and ‘clean brewed’ (i.e. good quality) ale or beer.
Things that were bad for you included unripe fruit, old meat, shellfish, immoderate amounts of onions, and sour wine. They also believed that sweet wines and sweet meats hurt the teeth, and thought that overly salted meat, garlic and onions, as well as thick and sweet wines hurt the eyes.
David Morrison, Cathedral Library and archives.