Sunday, January 3, 2016


Medieval Healing
  So far, Reader, we have discussed the evolution of healing from the time of Jesus of Nazareth through to the developments in the early Church.
  As time wore on the wheel of linked herbal-spiritual healing which began in the Garden of Eden evolved through prophecy and Messianic healings in Israel into faith-filled cloisters in the Middle Ages.
  The healings in the early Church continued as the witness to Jesus spread further afield.
  The Way was recognized by Emperors Constantine and Licinius I when they issued  the Edict of Milan [which decriminalized Christian worship] in c 313. 
  Nicene Christianity became the State Religion of the Roman Empire in with the Edict of Thessalonica in AD 380 promulgated by Emperor Theodosius 1.
  The first steps in the formation of a canon of authoritative Christian books considered worthy to stand beside the Old Testament canon appear to have been taken about the beginning of the second century. There is evidence for the circulation of two collections of Christian writings in the Church. The new canon was the Bible of Jesus the Messiah and His disciples,
  At a very early date it appears that the four Gospels were united in one collection.
This fourfold collection was known as 'The Gospel' in the singular; not 'The Gospels' in the plural.  There was only one Gospel, narrated in four records, distinguished as 'according to Matthew,' 'according to Mark' , 'according to Luke' and of course, 'according to John.'
  The Canon of the New Testament were in place; the healings of Jesus Christ and in the early Church were well known and early Christianity had been decriminalized.
The way was now open for the public witness that occurred in the period known as the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages
    This period lasted from the 5th to the 15th century, beginning with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and merging into the Renaissance and Age of Discovery.
  By the end of the 11th century nearly every corner of Europe had become Christianized (except for much of Spain).  There was deep and touching belief in Jesus and His Greatness, manifested by the devout faith of people in small village churches and magnificent Medieval Cathedrals.
  The early conflagration of spirit-flames which had originally cast their glow upon the first disciples now spread into the fortresses and villages of Medieval Europe.
  The Christian Church began to organize itself and a workable hierarchy evolved, which simplified issues for people. The Church hierarchy made it easy for people to work out who to go to for guidance in various issues. This was the positive side. On the negative side, some who took position of authority manifestly battled to live up to their calling.   Thus the ongoing dilemma of Church in the world!
  The Medieval period was a time of many challenges. Many people lacked education and looked to the nobility for protective leadership from invasion, and to the clergy for leadership to salvation.
  Famine and disease such as the Great Plague ravaged the population in Europe.
  Many suffered and died in misery and destitution, yet the Christ was not idle.
  In His Resurrected State, Jesus Christ continued His work of calling disciples to His Work on earth which took distinctive direction in a new era. 
  A gathering number of people reported divine intervention in their lives with a special message for them to redirect their plans for their lives in order to dedicate themselves to the work of God.
Francis of Assisi
   One such report came from Francis, a man who lived in Assisi, Italy.
Francis was born in about 1181 AD. As a young man, he was well known for his ability to drink and to party.
  Francis went to war, was seized as a hostage during hostilities, and was thereafter imprisoned for nearly a year while awaiting ransom to be paid by his father.
  During this time, Francis apparently began to receive visions from God.
  Upon eventual payment of ransom, Francis returned home a shell of himself - a shocked casualty of war.
His value system had undergone dramatic change during his enforced incarceration.
  One day as Francis was riding his horse in the local countryside, he met a leper.
Lepers were the untouchables of Medieval society; they were viewed with fear.
Those suffering from this dreadful disease were constrained to wear a mantle and hat which identified them as lepers. They further carried a bell or clapper which they had to ring when anyone came near.
This enabled the average medieval person to scuttle away as far as possible in fear of the risk of contagion.
The physical, social and emotional isolation of the leper was a tragic experience to undergo.
  Well, Francis who had been mulling over the message of Jesus Christ since his imprisonment, got off his horse and embraced the leper.
It is thought possible that he suspected the leper of being Jesus Christ incognito.
This behavior was certainly a departure from the previously richly dressed partygoer.
Francis now took to embracing the outcasts in his society, a sure sign that God's Word was germinating and taking root in his soul.
  Francis developed the habit of frequent prayer, and spent much time meditating and reflecting in old deserted churches.
One day Francis was praying one day in front of the Byzantine Church in the rambling ruin of the St Damiano church in the district when he heard the Voice of Jesus Christ speaking to him.
Francis was mandated to rebuild the church, and to live a life of simplicity.

  Francis promptly began to following his inspiration, and along with followers he gathered preached the Gospel to the people of the area.
  Today he is known as a great man of holiness.
  Francis'  meeting a stricken leper led him to being faced with the iconic emblem of the healing Christ - the divinity enshrined in the suffering exterior of humanity - and his daily lifestyle radically changed.

 What did this mean in the medieval context?
Many who listened to his preaching, and many who were personally called by Jesus Christ began to minister to those in need of physical, emotional and social healing.
Miraculous healings were attributed to the healing powers of Francis.
  Thus, in the midst of the turbulence of this time the healings of Jesus Christ came into prominence.
  The healings in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ inspired a whole new culture; medieval monastic hospitals and cloisters began to spring up in many areas.

Medieval Monastery
  The medieval monastery had a number of uses; monastics welcomed travellers and gave them safe shelter in troubled times when few inns existed.
  Monasteries performed many kind deeds in honour of the Gospel Message such as giving nourishment to the hungry.  healing the sick who were brought to their doors and both making - and dispensing - medicines.
  Monks and nuns declared themselves dedicated to faith in Jesus Christ.
  Many manifested their belief by means of works of corporal mercy.
  And here is where our story begins . . . 
A Day in the Life
  Imagine, Reader, that you are serving in a medieval monastery . . .
The night is dark and long, and the stars twinkle above in the clouded night sky.
As you rest on the lumpy straw mattress of your cot, the Matins bell - rung by a sleepy novice - sounds through the echoing cloisters.
  It is still dark and the time for monastic prayer.
  You wake up, yawn and swing to your knees next to the little wooden cot to murmur your 'Deo Gratias' - thanks be to God for His Call to worship.
  Your sandals make a gentle slapping sound on the cold stone floor as you hurry along the cloisters.
 With your hands tucked into your sleeves and your cowl keeping your ears warm in the cool of the early morn, you quietly move along the monastery corridors.
As you arrive at the cloister garth a wave of scent from the direction of the herbal gardens brightens your early hours.
  You look over to where the cloister wall looms protectively over your domain; the sacred calling to grow herbals and make simples to cure the sick and lepers of the town.
  You now make your way towards the welcoming chapel where the beeswax candles from the monastery hive glow in front of the Sacred Tabernacle.
  As you rise from your genuflexion before the Sacred Bread of Jesus held in the Altar Tabernacle, you pause for a moment at the beauty glowing on the altar.
  There are the Lily-of-the-Valleys you have been cultivating for the Feast of the Maiden Mary in vases next to the tabernacle.
  A wave of happiness comes over you as you rise to intone the first Psalm . . .
  The fruits of your work in the hives and the herbal gardens are praising the God of Goodness as you sing praises to His Name with your community.
  Later that day you labour in the living, aromatic medicine chest of the herbal gardens.
The walled gardens with thatched pentice is the Infirmar's garden of medicinal herbs, cloister and orchards.
In this enclosure the various trees you and your assistant novices tend bear fruit.
Where the orchard ends, the garden begins and a fountain with seating for infirm brethren invite them to sit and rest.
There the ailing enjoy watching the little fish skirt and play around in the water. 
  Nearby is your thatched distilling room.
At various times of the day you move about mixing herbal tinctures and healing ointments.
Lavender oil to soothe sore muscles, the blessed herb rosemary to aid circulation and feverfew to treat the headache.
You know these herbs are very strong and should only be taken under physician's express guidance;  later that day you will remind the young novices of the same.
  You go out once more into the garden and drop to your knees.
  They are growing larger and somewhat painful after years of kneeling on draughty church kneelers and working in the herb garden.
The sunshine warms your face.
The fragrance of the lavender bushes, the oils of the rosemary bushes running high, the wide placidity of the dock leaves and the stinging warning of the green nettles rush up from the earth as you work.
  It is your joy to grow herbs for healing.
Comfrey nicknamed 'knitbone' to heal bone and ligament injuries.
The deep crimson berries of the elder as an excellent cough remedy.
The dandelion to cure edema.
Cloves to cure toothache; the goodly horseradish vegetable, and valerian to ease the sleep of tired farmers.
  What a wonderful life this is, you muse as time for the evening Angelus Prayer arrives.
The peace and joy of living among the beauties and wonders of the cures from the Eden Garden to help the sick and suffering.
Thankfulness to the Holy Saviour well up in your loving heart; gratitude for calling you to this ministry of healing . . .
How wonderful it is to work in the garden of the Lord . . .
  And so Reader, this little monastic so devoted to spirituality and healing shows forth the powerful essence of the reverence for the Healing Miracles of Christ.
   The link between hospitality, spirituality and healing in the early days of monasticism led directly to that historical institution, Monastic Medicine; which was a unique dualism between Natural Science and Spiritual Healing. 

Monastic Medicine
  In the early Middle Ages, the excessive prevalence of illness and disease among the suffering population guided the practice and development of medical care.
  Disease was a constant threat in Europe as a result of poor living conditions and the technical inadequacies of medieval medicine.
Frequent deaths and the toll this took on families and communities led to searches for new and more effective means of medical practice.
Large-scale epidemics of feared diseases such as plague, leprosy and influenza inspired new medical practitioners.
Medicine expanded rapidly into a large and important occupation and ranged from natural, physical-based medicine to religious medicine, magical medicine and herbalism. 1

  One of the major medical developments of this time was the development of medieval monastic hospitals.
  From these fortresses of spirituality and learning, a pivotal source of medical care in the early Middle Ages arose.
  Monastic health care was the result of the dedicated work of well-educated monks with access to historical documents containing medical information and with a calling to serve God by helping people.
The monastic hospitals functioned as centers of hospitality in medieval society.
Treatment was offered to all; monks and nuns, pilgrims and paupers, noble and kingly.
  The nobility - wealthy in coin and land - often offered their tithe to God and gratitude for spiritual assistance and health care by means of generous benefaction of the monasteries.
  The situation now slowly developed where monasteries became centers of wealth and owners of costly golden and gem encrusted chalices, illuminated manuscripts and valuable fertile lands.
As time wore on, envious eyes turned towards the burgeoning wealth of the monasteries.
  In the meantime, monks as primary care givers often focused on natural, physical-based medical practices.
Examples of their care were general cleanliness while providing care for the sick, bloodletting and herbalism.
Monastic medical practice realized that natural causes lead to illness and disease.
Monks carried out natural physical treatments on patients.
Monastery design and historical church records show that a unique feature of the monastic medical system was the use of these physical treatments as a manifestation or extension of spiritual or religious rather than purely natural knowledge-based medicine.
  The design and function of monastic hospitals shows that natural healing was incorporated in a complex doctrine that emphasized the importance of the spiritual element in healthcare.
  Monastics focused on treating a patient's soul in addition to his or her body.
They further believed that God had ultimate authority in one's health and recovery. 

Benedict of Nursia
  Health care in the monastery was often governed by a Rule, which was a Code of Spirituality and Conduct approved by the Church.
One such Rule is the Rule of St Benedict. This document was written by Benedict of Nursia (c 480 to 547) for monks living communally under the authority of an abbot.
Abbot is the ecclesiastical title given to the Head of a Monastery.
  With regard to the welfare of the sick and the way in which monks cared for the sick, Benedict explains; 'Before others and above all, special care must be taken of the ill so they may be looked after, as Christ . . . The sick must remember they are being taken care of for the honor of God' and Christ himself. 2 
  In a Benedictine monastery, healthcare to monks was expected to emulate the treatment of Jesus Christ.
St Benedict does not comment on the actual methods of treatment, preferring to focus on the spiritual aspect of medicine through biblical allusions.     
  The monks were deeply aware that all healing comes from God.
They reached back into Torah history for inspiration as to their monastic healing calling; and drew inspiration from the Book of Genesis.
Monastic Inspiration
  The monks were aware that Exodus 15; 26 points to God as the Divine Source of healing. 
"I am the Lord that heals you."
 God is the God Who heals, and faith is - quite simply put - trust in the God Who heals.
  Those involved in monastic healing were also aware of the works of Jesus Christ, his signs - healings - wonders.
  In the Gospels, healings are referred to as a 'sign'. 3 
They prove Jesus' Divinity and serve to strengthen belief in Him as the Christ.
  Jesus had miraculously appeared to the persecutor Saul who thereafter metamorphosed into the Apostle Paul through conversion.
In later years, Paul strongly believed that healing is one of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. 4

 Monks living in the monasteries of learning and wisdom found further expression of their calling as healers by receiving inspiration from the Greek temple culture which had been established as early as the fifth century BC.
  As we discussed in Lesson 2,  communal worship of Asklepius - the powerful healer-deity of Greek tradition - arose in temples in an effort to end numerous epidemics and individual illnesses.
These temples, called Asklepieia, served as examples of the origination of spiritual medicine.
  This form of medicine which often derived treatment from patient's dreams  utilized the same architectural patterns as many monasteries with respect to association of a place of worship with the hospital ward area.
  In Greek Asklepieia patients could see the temple through the portico from their beds,  just as monastic infirmaries included chapels for the sick.
  This very visible characteristic and similarity with Greek Askleieia shows how clearly monastic medicine placed ultimate authority on spiritual healing.

Monastic infirmaries to Cathedral hospitals
  Monastic infirmaries also had architectural resemblance to Cathedral hospitals that followed them into the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
St Mary Chichester, an English Cathedral hospital, built the infirmary on an east-west axis with the Chapel at its east end.
The Chapel enabled the sick in their beds to be close to the worship and gain the healing which services - especially the Holy Mass (or celebration of Christ's Last Supper) - were believed to provide. 5
  The Monastic hospitals represented a time in which the authority of God over medicine was unquestioned by still supplemented by physical treatments.
  Medical care had thus evolved as a spiritual phenomenon which was ultimately in the hands of God.

Monastic teachings
  Cassiodorus the Senator wrote a book for the instruction of medicine to monks around 551.
In the book Cassioduros emphasized that the ultimate result of illness, recovery or death is the concern of God.  'Learn, therefore, the properties of herbs and perform the compounding of drugs punctiliously; but do not place your hope in herbs and do not trust health to human counsel. For although the art of medicine be found to be established by the Lord, He Who without doubt grants life to men, makes them sound.' 6
The teaching of Cassiodorus shows that natural medicine was viewed as subordinate to spiritual healing.

 Educated monks continuously studied a wide variety of subjects, including medicine. They believed that natural medicine had spiritual bases. 7
  The early Church Fathers such as John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Basil of Caesarea and Clement of Alexandria offered rationales for the use of physical  medicine and natural therapies.
  As a result of these writing and the promotion of natural medicine as a consequence of spiritualism, Christianity and monasticism accepted medical care as an acceptable and useful practice.

Healing Herbs
  From earliest times, the love of green things growing has reminded us of the beauties of the original Paradise God created in Genesis.
  The monasteries, places of worship, healing and learning, were often planned around gardens - the memory of the lost Eden.
  An example of a great monastery  (according to the Rule of St Benedict) may be seen in a plan preserved at the library of St Gall.
  The square in the center of the cloister held a water stoup, surrounded by flowers and grass.
  The special monastic gardens were laid out at the school and the hospital.
  South of the hospital is the physician's house, the placing of which made it very easy to take sick patients there.
  On the west side is the physic-garden, a quadrangle divided into sixteen straight beds.
  And the medicinal herbs which grew in the monastery cloister gardens are written on the plan; the first named are roses and lilies.

  It is essential dear Reader, to know just how important herbs were to medieval healers.
In modern times herbs are still widely used in both naturopathic and hospital healing institutions.
Many lives have been - and are - healed by herbal means.
Years ago I trained in phytotherapy, as a herbalist. It was fascinating for me to draw parallels.
  The aspirin which underpins current cardiology and stroke prevention programmes was first drawn from the Willow, Salix alba. Medicines made from willow and other salicylate-rich plants appear in Egyptian pharonic pharmacology papyri from the second millennium BCE.  8
  Hippocrates referred to the use of salicylic tea to reduce fevers,  and this herb was part of the pharmacopoeia of Western Medicine in Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

  The pain relieving opium poppy - Papaver somniferum - offers the pain relief from which Morphine is drawn.
The opium poppy was grown in the monastic physic-gardens; medieval physicians depended on opium for pain relief.  9
Many other medications have herbal origins;  and medieval monk-physicians and nuns were masters of the healing craft.

Some flowers were used as herbal medicine. 
Rose - Rosa centifolia or Rosa damascena - beautified the cloisters.
Rose petals were made into tea for - among others - the treatment of stress, depression, sinus congestion and colds.
Rose oil is used to regenerate the skin, and is invaluable in skin treatments
The seed pods of roses (known as hips) are a source of Vitamin C.
Along with the rose, the other major sacred flower of the early Christian Church was the highly scented Madonna lily, Lilium candidum. 
They were grown together with especially aromatic herbs such as lavender and rosemary. 

  For those who plant, grow and harvest, a garden is a work of magic. 
  Founding and tending a herb garden in the ancient cloisters was highly regarded in the medieval religious world as the task continued manual labour as directed by God 10 with quiet time for prayer while bending over the herbs. 11
Gardening quickens the senses while quieting the world.
From these beginnings grew the monastic maxim and practice of St Benedict 'Ora et labora' - the Latin phrase meaning 'Pray and Work.'

  Herbs had many uses in the life of worship and service in the medieval world.
They gave flavour and taste to food, freshened soap and linens with their scent and graced services of worship to Almighty God with fragrance of roses and lilies. 
  Herbs also brought a symbol of the order with which God created the universe into the Cloister herbal gardens.
This was done by means of a combination of design and horticulture; herbal gardens being laid out in symbolic patterns and designs.
Monastery grounds 
  Monasteries grew quantities of simple vegetables, such as onions and cabbages for the use of the moastery and for feeding the poor. 
  Within the larger wall of the monastery - outside the cloisters-  was a small orchard.
  Monks reflected  about the symbolism of the laying out of the grounds because they were very conscious of the need for beauty to give rest to the soul. 
  Monasteries grew the flowers and decorative plants for seasonal decorative needs. 

  Ivy and holly were used at Christmas, and branches were used as palms on Palm Sunday. 
Lilies and roses stood for the purity of martyrs on their feast days and general flowers were used for festivals. 
The infirmary garden grew mallow as an aid to blood coagulation. 
Medicinal herbs including comfrey, fever-few, yarrow and plantain were grown. 

  The ancient monks and nuns directly linked the healing herbs created by God in Genesis with the healing powers of Jesus Christ in the New Testament - and reflected both herbs and powers splendidly in their monastic herbal gardens.
Without the dedication and early pharmacies of the monasteries, many of us would not be alive today. That is a fact.  Monasticim flourished as far afield as North Africa, Upper Egypt, Palestine, throughout Europe, in Gaul [modern day Ireland]. Many of the people healed in medieval times are ancestors to us today. Thought provoking - without people of dedication and compassion in healing in the past, our history would have been very different today . . .

Questions for your Heart and Mind

1. Why do you think God created herbs to be used in healing?

2. Pluck a leaf from a herb such as rose or mint. Place it on your prayer altar. Spend some time in prayer before your altar. What thoughts do you come away with?

3. Describe an experience in your life where you have had a positive experience with healing.

4. Spend time in meditation and reflection on the life of the leper in medieval times. What conclusions do you come to?


1.   Park, K. [1992]. Medicine and Society in Medieval Europe, 500 - 1500. In Medicine and Society;
Historical Essays, A. Wear, ed. (New York; Cambridge University Press),  p 64
2.   Benedict [1995]. The Rule of St Benedict, A.C. Meisel and M.L. del Mastro, trans.
(New York; Doubleday),  p78

3.   New Testament, John 6;2
4.   New Testament, 1 Corinthians 12;9
5.   Orme, N.  Webster, M.  [1995].  The English Hospital,  1070 - 1570.  (New Haven;  Yale University Press), p 88
6.   Cassiodorus Senator. [1946].  An Introduction to Divine and Human Reading,  L.W. Jones,  trans.
(New York;  Columbia Univeristy Press),  p 135
7.   Agrimi, J.,  Crisciani, C.  [1998].  Charity and Aid in Medieval Christian Civilization.  In Western Medical Thought from Antiquity to The Middle Ages,  M.D. Grmek, ed. (Massachusetts;  Harvard University Press) 
pp 176 - 177
8.   Nunn, John F. [1996].  "7".  Ancient Egyptian Medicine.  Norman, O.  (USA; University of Oklahoma Press) pp Ch 7; Table 7;2.  ISBN 0-8061-2831-3
9.   Boling, Janice.  [2010].  "Roses in Herbal Medicine". []
10. The Old Testament, Genesis 3; 19
11.  2 Chronicles 7; 14 - 15
Shepherd Church Seminary
Doctor of Healing Ministry Lesson One

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Doctor of Healing Ministry Lesson Two
Good Shepherd Church Seminary
Doctor of Healing Ministry Lesson Three
Good Shepherd Church Seminary
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Good Shepherd Church Seminary
Doctor of Healing Ministry Lesson Five
Rev Catherine
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Disclaimer; The information on this post is meant for information only. The information is not meant to replace your Doctor or Health professional or Herbalist care.

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