Edited by Barbara S. Bowers, The Medieval Hospital and Medical Practice: AVISTA Studies in the History of Medieval Technology, Science and Art, Ashgate Publishing Limited Gower House Croft Rd Aldershot Hampshire GU11 3HR and Burlington USA, 2007.

Edited by Barbara S. Bowers, The Medieval Hospital and Medical Practice: AVISTA Studies in the History of Medieval Technology, Science and Art, Ashgate Publishing Limited Gower House Croft Rd Aldershot Hampshire GU11 3HR and Burlington USA, 2007. ISBN-13:978-0-7546-5110-9 (hardback) vii +253

Reviewed by:  Joy Powell, Chaplain,   St John of God Services, Dublin, Ireland, July 2007.

This is the third volume from AVISTA an organisation which promotes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Medieval Technology, Science and Art. This book is the result of Avista’s 36thInternational Congress on Medieval Studies organised by Barbara S. Bowers, its editor, who is also Secretary of AVISTA.  It is the work of sixteen scholars from diverse disciplines from Europe and the USA.

The idea behind the lectures and indeed the book came about, Bowers says, by envisioning the possibilities that the medieval hospital could have a central organising theme, one that could call together scholars from many diverse disciplines to focus their expertise on a single topic: the medieval hospital. (preface page xiv)

The aim of the conference and subsequently this book was to seek out new approaches to research which crosses a variety of disciplines from architectural history, textual criticism and monastic studies to name but a few.

The book is divided into four sections Section I deals with Medieval Medical Research,  Section II with Archaeology and Architecture Technology , Section III with New Approaches to Written Sources and finally Section IV with The Monastic Connection.

Section I is the result of the scholarship of three scholars. Professor John M. Riddle examines the problems in relating ancient diseases to our modern understanding of them and the methodology that is employed in accessing medieval therapeutics. His focus is on what can be gained when historians and scientists work collaboratively together.

Chapter Two is the work of Theresa M. Van, who gives a useful account of The Sacra Infermeria, the sixteenth century hospital built in Valletta, Malta by the Knights of Malta. Van provides an introduction to the archives of the medical library of the Order of Malta.  While Van expresses disappointment at how little information about patient and practices can be gleaned from said archives (as the majority of the documents deal with the structural boards rather than the operational duties), she did discover texts there that revealed the Hospitaller ethos and medical practice.

In the final chapter of Section I Bruno Tabuteau charts the changes that have taken place with regard to historical research developments dealing with leprosy in France and Western Europe . Tabuteau gives due credit to the development known as la nouvelle histoire, which helped change modern perceptions of Leprosy in the Middle Ages.  Tabuteau is in favour of an interdisciplinary approach to research  and international collaboration as proposed at a congress in Bradford  on the Evolution and Palaeoepidemiology of Infectious  Diseases.  To that end Tabuteau has coordinated a group which includes several historians, archaeologists , physicians and paleopathologists  representing many European nationalities and American researchers.  Their last meeting in Gothenburg in 2000 was a starting point for a European program to publish leprosaria statutes and regulations.

Section  II  has four chapters  and deals with physical evidence , archaeology and architecture technology.

William White explores the diseases which can be identified from some 10,500 skeletons excavated from St Mary’s Hospital Spiral in London.  The author claims this significantly large find will provide research opportunities for the history of medicine for many years. This chapter deals with the history and archaeology of the hospital and also excavation and post excavation Techniques.

Geoff Egan is concerned in Chapter five with the scarcity of medieval medical equipment being excavated. One exception was at the medieval hospital of St Mary Spital which threw up much in the way of physical evidence. Egan concludes that while finds of interesting objects such as three metal sheet patches used for keeping medications at the sight of wounds help us understand something of medical interventions in the Middle Ages, the prospect of identifying medical tools is not as promising.

Lynn T. Courtenay deals with the founding of The Hospital of Notre Dame des Fontenilles at Tonnerre  16thMarch 1295, a hospital under the patronage of the aristocratic widow Marguerite of Burgundy and Nevers,  Queen of Sicily and Jerusalem.  Marguerite ‘s building of the hospital was a corporal work of mercy inspired by her faith and obedience to gospel values.  Courtenay concludes that hospitals such as Notre Dame de Fontenilles while revealing aspects of medieval medical practice also give us an insight into aristocratic piety in Capetian France, explore the wider social and religious concerns for the poor and welfare distribution and also address the desire for a family memorial. These issues transcended the medical science of curing diseases in the thirteenth century.

Chapter seven is the work of Renzo Baldasso a candidate in Art History and Archaeology and deals with function and epidemiology in the Ospedale Maggiore the largest hospital ever built during the Renaissance which according to Baldasso’s research created a new concept of hospital.

Section iii has five interesting chapters James W. Brodman deals with religion and discipline in the hospitals of thirteenth century France.  He explained how the medieval hospital was a sacred place where the spiritual as well as the physical was of concern. Next, Peregrine Horden explores what he calls ‘medicine without doctors’ and the power of positive thinking as part of the therapy of the Medieval European hospital. Alain Touwaide deals effectively with Byzantine hospital manuals as a source of the study of therapeutics in chapter ten while in chapter eleven M.K.K Yearl looks at medieval monastic customaries on minuti andinfirmi. In the final chapter Ann Van Arsdell challenges perceptions of medieval medicine as bordering on witchcraft using spells and herbs.

The final section deals with the monastic connection. It begins with Rafael Hyacinthe ‘s De Domo Sancti Lazari  Milites Leprosi   which concerns Knighthood and Leprosy in the Holy Land in the  Order of St Lazarus.  Next, Piers D. Mitchell deals well with the infirmaries of the Order of the Medieval Kingdom of Jerusalem. Finally Maria A D’Aronco gives an account of the rule of St Benedict as it pertains to the care of the sick in the place of St Gall and Anglo-Saxon England.

As a chaplain working in modern day health care facility I found this book to be genuinely interesting. It took me back to the roots of health care and affirmed for me the idea of a more holistic approach to care of the sick. This is a valuable piece of interdisciplinary research for anyone interested not just in the medieval hospital but also in the way that research is carried out.