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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic



Manuscript illustration of bloodletting
© British Library
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Manuscript image of a man being bloodlet

Bloodletting was a preventative and restorative treatment frequently administered during the Middle Ages. It was thought that this restored balance to the body, sharpened the senses and cleared the brain; it was also believed that bloodletting produced a musical voice, promoted longevity and quenched sexual desire. Bloodletting in Cistercian abbeys, as in other religious houses, was a routine part of life. As a matter of course monks were bled several times a year, to keep them in optimum health. The monks were bloodlet in batches at least four times a year – February, April, June and September – but there was to be no bloodletting either at harvest, when everyone was needed to help in the fields, or at feasts when the entire community was expected to participate in all the services. Any member of the community who was ill might receive extra bleedings to restore his health.

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