Medieval Medicine

Yesterday was a day we had been looking forward to: our first “Medieval Medicine” primary schools workshop. We first started thinking about this schools workshop during the Pharmacopoeia exhibition. The exhibition showed some of the Special Collection Centre’s medieval herbals, which illustrate different plants and describe them physically and in terms of their medicinal properties. As well as containing beautiful illustrations of plants, some of the books show the different stages of plant production and give detailed instructions on how to prepare the plants for medicine. There are pictures of people planting, harvesting and even distilling plants, extracting their essence for use as medicine. One of our most exquisite books, the Hortus Sanititatis (Garden of Health), even shows scenes in a medieval hospital with doctors treating patients and analysing urine samples. These books are a gift for delving into the world of medieval medicine.

Our Medieval Medicine workshop gives pupils a chance to see some of these amazing rare books first hand, and turns them into medieval doctors themselves, with patients to heal. Our doctors yesterday were P5 from Insch Primary School in Aberdeenshire. After learning about the system of the Four Humours (the medieval theory of how the human body worked), the children were given patient case notes and “urine” samples, and they got to work diagnosing and curing their patients using a urine and disease charts and a herbal. We had some good discussions going when it came to giving the patients lifestyle advice. One of the patients was a prisoner in a castle dungeon and although the doctors had plenty of good advice for him they weren’t sure he would be able to carry it out. One set of doctors said they would speak to the castle gaolers about improving the living conditions in the prison.

looking at medieval herbals in the collection

examining an illustration from the Hortus Sanitiatis

demonstrating the balance and imbalance of the four humours

consulting the urine chart and disease chart

"urine" samples and an illustration from the Hortus Sanitatis

If you’d like to bring your class to the Special Collections Centre for our Medieval Medicine workshop, email us at scc.learning@abdn.ac.uk or phone (01224) 273047 or (01224) 273048.

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