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Later Middle Ages

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Health care at Byland

There are four winds. There are four ranks of angels in heaven.
There are four times of the year: spring, summer, autumn and
winter. There are four humours in the human body: red bile,
black bile, blood and phlegm.

[From a tract on humorology in a herbal from Byland’s library] (54)

Sustenance for the sick
Roger de Mowbray gave two stags and three hinds to Byland each year, to sustain the sick members of the community.

The infirmary at Byland, like that of other religious houses, was managed by the infirmarer (or server of the sick), who was a monastic official (obedientiary) of some prominence. He would have had at least one servant to assist him. In addition to sick monks, the infirmarer would have cared for those recuperating from bloodletting, as well as older members of the community who required greater comfort and a more fortifying diet.

The twelfth-century customary of the Cistercian Order (Ecclesiastica Officia) discusses the infirmarer’s managerial duties in some detail, but says little of his medical knowledge. The infirmarer – and no doubt others in the abbey – was probably well-versed in herbal remedies and used herbs from the abbey’s herb garden.
He would also have administered medicinal compounds.

Book on bloodletting
© British Library
<click to enlarge>
Book on bloodletting

The infirmarer would have had access to certain medical and herbal texts from the library at Byland. An interesting example is a late twelfth/early thirteenth-century herbal now preserved in Cambridge University Library. This rather ambitious work began as an exhaustive list of herbs in alphabetical order, but stops at the letter ‘B’; it then continues with a summary of humorology and its bearing on bloodletting. For example, it recommends that bloodletting should not be carried out after the Ides of July, as blood was most active just before this period.(55)
[Read more about Sickness and Health]

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