Tag Archives: medical science

Women practicing medicine in the early church


Image of Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead (1867 - 1941)...

Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, pioneering gynecologist

Women led in early Christendom in the area of medicine. Though the knowledge and practices of that field during those days were primitive, even laughable by today’s standards, late ancient and early medieval medical practitioners of both sexes did do significant good in nursing and basic care. Their work helped set the stage for the development of hospitals and religiously based medical ministries that dominated the field throughout the Middle Ages.

What follows are excerpts from a book I discovered while working on the profile of Christian medical ministry for the Bethel Seminary course (and I hope future book) Resources for Radical Living. The book is Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, M.D.’s A History of Women in Medicine (Haddam, Conn..: Haddam Press, 1938). I have included only a small sampling of the fascinating accounts in the book:

[For more on early Christian medical ministry, see here and here.] Continue reading

Medieval monasteries in the history of hospitals


It’s often the “just-right source” that opens up a topic for me, and as I teach it, for my students. In the Resources for Radical Living course, I will be profiling the history of Christian practices of medical healing (that is, not including “faith healing”). An excellent source on this topic just came to me via the wonderful almighty inter-library loan system (thank you Mark Nygaard in the Bethel Seminary library), and I’d like to share a bit of it with y’all. [For more of the story beyond what follows, see here and here.

Guenter B. Risse of the Department of the History of Health Sciences, UC San Francisco, provides fascinating insights into the many stages of medical practice within Christian communities from the earliest years of the church onward in his compendious book Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals (Oxford University Press, 1999).

To take just one example: I have seen it said in a number of places that the hospital was a medieval Christian invention. What follows are some excerpts from Risse on health care within medieval monasteries, from chapter 2: “Christian hospitality.” “Invention” is likely too strong a word to use of medieval developments in care of the sick–the Cappadocian father Basil the Great (330 – 379) was setting up something like ancient hospitals in Caesarea to address famine and disease in that city, and there were earlier pagan models that bore some resemblance to what later became hospitals. However, we can see from early on in Benedictine monasteries many of the rudiments of modern hospitals:

“From the start, providing hospitality and healing the sick became key responsibilities of European monasteries, reflective of both the inward and worldly missions they had assumed. As in the East, early Christian welfare in Europe targeted voluntary and structural paupers—there were few distinctions between them—as well as pilgrims. Continue reading