The Influence of Religion on Medicine

Perhaps because the medical treatments that were attempted in
the early Middle Ages were so ineffective, medieval people began
to look for new answers. Over time, many healers concluded that
disease was destiny or was punishment for a transgression of the
For this reason, spiritual intervention was often considered
more important than any physical remedies. While the
church believed that the sick may have needed to be made comfortable
by a healer, the church elders generally felt that being blessed
by the priest was likely to be more effective at healing. In 1276 a
former physician and cleric became Pope John XXI, which might
have elevated belief in medicine, but Pope John XXI’s career progression
was highly unusual and his background in medicine had
little effect on general practices of the day.
As religious rituals began to become more important, relics—a
hallowed bone, a tooth, or a toenail—were used to ward off disease
or to bring about cures. (For more on religious healing, see chapter
3, “Diagnosis and Treatment.”)

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