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Medieval miracle accounts in Britain and Ireland

Medieval miracle accounts in Britain and Ireland as a source for medical practice

Researcher: Krystal Carmichael

Project: Medieval miracle accounts in Britain and Ireland as a source for medical practice.

Krystal is an American student currently working on a PhD at the School of History, UCD.

Her research looks at miracle collections from 11th and 12th century Britain and Ireland with a new perspective, focused on the medical aspects of the writings. Historians of modern medicine have physicians’ notes, a few patient accounts and various other institutional records to draw information from. Medieval historians interested in medicine have various medical treatises, but some of the best sources for health and medicine are miracle collections. During the 12th century there was a boom in miracle collecting at saint’s shrines, which resulted in the compilation of volumes of miracle books. These volumes are a way for us to study the medical history of the Middle Ages from the bottom up. Stories of miraculous healing are essentially the only ‘patient accounts’ we have from the medieval period. By looking at miracle accounts as personal recollections of illness, we can gain new insights into the medieval psychology surrounding illness and healing.

The main aim of the project is to compile a database of miraculous cures to answer questions concerning health at the time. Does data show a pattern of specific illness affecting one gender more than the other? What is the ratio of children vs. adults, making pilgrimage to be healed, recorded in these collections? This paper will also look at whether poor or noble/notable people are more commonly found in miracle collections, and what was gained by having notable people healed at a certain shrine. It also aims to build a picture of what the most common illnesses recorded were, and how this correlates with known living conditions. I use methodologies commonly employed by scholars of modern history and apply them to the Middle Ages, this includes focusing on power relations between institutions and the population, as well as the frameworks for studying social history.

 This research also looks into the relationship between the church and medicine. This will have a two-fold focus. First, I will examining the ideology; the role of God and how people thought of illness and healing within their Christian worldview. Secondly, I will examine the institutional role of the church in healing. Often times those suffering did not receive immediate cures, but remained in the church/monastery for some time. This research will look into the use and knowledge of Arabic and Greek medicine by monks, as well as the growth of hospitals, especially for specific illnesses such as leprosy, or accommodation of pilgrims.

Supervisor: Dr Michael Staunton

Contact UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland

School of History, Room J113, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
T: +353 1 716 8185