The Life of a Medieval Doctor

Pagan beliefs were challenged by the Christian Church, through pagan practices yielded much more slowly. Wikimedia

2. Pagan medical practices dominated much of Europe at the beginning of the medieval period

Though the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all included religious practices as a part of the healing arts – the Greek god Asclepius was a physician, meditation in temples in his name would result in healing dreams – throughout Western Europe pagan practices dominated. It was from pagan beliefs that the healing properties of various roots, berries, and plants emerged, and with them the belief in the mystical powers of some vegetation. Medicine, such as it was, focused on curing illness and physical disorders, there was little interest in prevention. The onset of Christianity absorbed many of the pagan and folk traditions in Europe.

Many of the books of the Apocrypha included references to pagan and folk remedies and in particular the use of medicinal plants, as well as the nostrums which could be derived from them. Monasteries across Europe became the citadels of medical learning. Many became centers for the growing of gardens dedicated to medicinal plants, as well as distilleries for manufacturing liquors and brewing beer, both recognized for their healthful properties. The monks, being literate, were able to combine the medical knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians with the folk and pagan practices from their regions, and medicines which were dedicated to restoration of the Hippocratic humors gradually emerged across Europe.