Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Medical Care in a medieval monastery Part 2


Part 2: Medieval Doctors and Medical texts

                                                A copy of Galen's Tegni, 13th Century.
               (This image is copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester cathedral U.K.)

Have you ever dreamed of a job where you were paid a salary but you also received free food and a gallon of ale every time you showed up for work? Today’s blog deals with medieval medical textbooks, investigates doctors’ contracts and asks how they paid for medicines and care in the priory?

Just as a major modern hospital has a medical library for the benefit of staff and patients, so the monastic infirmarer also had access to a number of important medical texts from the cathedral library which would have allowed him and his deputy monk assistants to improve their knowledge. These texts included twelfth and thirteenth century translations of Arabic and Jewish doctors, such as Haly Ibn Abbas and Isaac, as well as translations of classical physicians such as Galen, or Hippocrates. There were also contemporary Christian authorities such as Gilbertus Anglicus’s fourteenth century compendium of medical knowledge. Several of the texts show evidence of having been annotated.  


                                             A doctor from a German woodcut of 1475
                    (This image is copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester cathedral U.K.)

The infirmarer also worked alongside a local physician. One monastic register reveals the details of a doctor’s contract that was drawn up by the monks with Master Henry Hampton. He became the physician to the monastic infirmary on 6th September 1320. His annual fee was forty shillings. When he visited the infirmary he was also guaranteed a monk’s loaf, a ‘gustatam’ (or gallon to a gallon and a half) of the best ale, a dish of food, stabling for his horse, and a livery robe. The quantity of ale required was normal because water was unsafe to drink and the ale was weaker than modern beer. In 1329 another such medical contract survives for Master John de Bosco. De Bosco was required by the monks to maintain confidentiality, warn them of anyone plotting evil deeds, and promise to give medical advice and assistance when called upon. He too was paid an annual fee, and also received food, the best ale of the monastery, and a place to stay if having to tend the sick overnight. There was also food and lodging for his servant and horse.

A Worcester document showing the income used to pay for medical care in Henry IV's reign.    (This image is copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester cathedral U.K.)

Sick monks did not have to pay the doctor themselves because the financial burden was shouldered by the monastery. The infirmarer was allowed to collect the rents from a portion of the monastery’s lands for this purpose. He also received payments towards treating the sick from nine local parish churches, such as Bromsgrove, Himbleton, Tibberton, Knightwick, Saint Andrew’s Pershore, and Saint Swithun’s Worcester. While the head of the monastery could afford to pay for his own medical advice and medicines, he occasionally would intervene to help pay for the cost of medicines of a sick monk as Prior William More did for brother William Fordam in 1531.

David Morrison, Cathedral Library and archives.           

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