The Impact of the Christian Church upon Medieval Medicine


The Impact of the Christian Church upon Medieval Medicine


  • Christian priests, nuns and monks would often additionally work as physicians; as they saw it as their Christian duty to care for the sick, thus following in Christ's example.
  • Some pioneering infirmaries were therefore established within monasteries or convents, if not as individual hospitals. They varied in size - with a common capacity being twelve, as this reflected the biblical twelve disciples - though they could potentially be much larger. The sick were cared for by chaplains.
  • It preserved the ancient works of Galen and Hippocrates; which acted as a basis for many of the ideas which were to follow in future centuries. Though many of the ideas presented by both individuals were largely inaccurate, they were of considerably greater accuracy, as compared to the supernatural ideas which dominated prehistoric and Ancient Egyptian medicine.
  • Some hospitals contained herb gardens, and herbalists to use such herbs to create herbal remedies; which could potentially have a therapeutic effect, even if for reasons uncomprehended.


  • The Church supported the theories of Galen to an overly powerful extent; so far as to consider any contradiction of his ideas blasphemous - as his idea that the body was crafted by one god, with each body part having a particular function, complied with Christian belief. The same development as had happened in the east - through the work of Rhazes and Ibn Sina, where such legislation was not in place - could not happen within western Europe; those that attempted to make advancements, such as Roger Bacon in the 1200s, would be punished.
  • The Church was hostile to contemporary ideas - with human dissection being disallowed, despite its obvious benefits in advancing medical knowledge.
  • Palliative care tended to be predominantly received within hospitals  - prayer was considered the ultimate treatment.
  • Though medical universities were established in the 13th century, there was little potential for new knowledge to be acquired; students were simply taught the workings of Galen and Hippocrates, thus meaning that inaccurate medical practice thrived for much further time.


The Christian Church did allow for some sense of continuity - in the preservation of ancient workings - though acted as an overall hindrance. The Ancient Greek and Roman eras had demonstrated gradual progress, yet - due to the Church's influence, the medicine of the Middle Ages did not conform to such a trend. It was the fundamental reason as to why no real progress was made in the west; and potential for development is clarified in the success of the Arabic world; who demonstrated clearly the effectivity of elaborating upon prior ideas to enhance knowledge. 




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