Reintegrating Body and Soul: Medicine and Community in Late Medieval Portugal


This project is based on my Wellcome-funded fellowship (held at Durham and Leeds 2005-2008) entitled: 'Physicians of the body and physicians of the soul: medicine and religion in medieval Portugal' (grant no: 076812). I am writing this up into a monograph with the provisional title: Reintegrating Body and Soul: Medicine and Community in Late Medieval Portugal (c.1320-c.1520).

Medicine, health and disease were experienced and understood in profoundly different ways in late medieval Portugal compared to northern Europe due to the distinctive political and religious make-up of the kingdom.

Portuguese medicine had much in common with that of medieval Spain, but differed due to the presence of large, more stable Jewish communities which were tolerated through until the end of the fifteenth century and provided around 80% of physicians. Portugal's creation of the first global empire by 1500 was also significant, leading to new sources of knowledge, the intense commercial production of sugar, the spread of plague, participation in the slave trade and health problems caused by long-distance voyages. There were relatively few university-trained physicians and the fluid social organization of Portuguese towns meant that barbers were higher status medical practitioners than elsewhere in Europe. Religion played a very important role in binding together Portuguese communities, and the spiritual connotations of health and disease had a profound effect on explanations for disease and the development of public health. Ideas about medicine, health and the body - often presented through religious language and symbolism - played a key role in shaping perceptions of the self and the state which were to prove long-lasting.

This project will see the publication of the first major study of medicine in medieval Portugal. Interest in Portugal is increasing within the context of the EU and the history of the Atlantic, and therefore this book will act as a timely reminder that a country which might seem small and peripheral can play an important role in the global history of medicine.