Reconsidering the Health Care Provider: Lessons from Medieval Miracle Accounts


Reconsidering the Health Care Provider: Lessons from Medieval Miracle Accounts

Lecture by Nicole Archambeau, University of California, Santa Barbara

Given at Oregon State University, on March 1, 2013




Using medieval canonization inquests, Archambeau will try to answer the seemingly simple question: What did people do when they were sick?   She will show that the answer was often far more complex than traditional research in the history of medicine shows. By sifting through hundreds of narratives of people coping with their own and loved-ones’ health care, we find that people used a plurality of available methods and even created new ones when needed. We also see that medieval concepts of health care extended beyond the boundaries of the physical body to include the passions or what contemporaries called “accidents of the soul.” Healers and sufferers saw that sadness, fear, and anxiety could damage physical health and were health problems in their own right.

These testimonies also give us a picture of an era that saw remarkable physical and spiritual hardship as well as profound uncertainty– the relocation of the papacy, repeated mercenary invasions, at least three waves of plague, and the struggle of the Great Schism. All of these events contributed to people’s emotional distress. Sufferers’ and healers’ strategies of coping and healing give insight into the ways people turn to their faith during times of profound crises.