Early Medieval Healing
During the eighth and ninth centuries, there was not much a peasant living in Anglo-Saxon England can do if they were affected by a serious illness. A patient can go to a holy figure for his prayer or blessing. If God deems that person worthy he or she shall be healed. If that doesn’t work, he or she can find a practicing physician, and hope that he will administer the right combination of herbs. Both methods cannot compare to modern science, but at least in Bald’s Leechbook there is evidence of some remedial techniques we still use today, and common knowledge in how a patient should be treated.
The first medieval source book, Bede: The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindesfarne (721), contains passages of Saint Cuthbert performing miracles on English countrymen. It starts off with Cuthbert administering a remedial cure to a swelling knee. He claimed that an angle told him to administer this, and apparently it worked1. Many other passages are about Cuthbert performing medical medicals by simply praying to people. This could be evidence of spiritual help, which in some cases helps a patient through illness. It may as well be just a ploy to convert Pagans, since at the time England was not fully Christianized. It also may be evidence of the placebo effect, but instead of administering a sugar pill, Cuthbert would administer a blessing. There is evidence of this when a nun is presented with a piece of linen girdle, which Saint Cuthbert used to posses. She was overjoyed by this and truly believed that it might work in healing her and it did2. Other methods of treatment include prayer to this saint, administering holy water to a patient, and eating consecrated bread. All of these cases have to do with individual healing, but little is mentioned about how to combat a plague3, which as mentioned in Chapter 32, could wipe out populated towns.
The second text, Bald’s Leechbook, contains passages on how to treat various...