Traditional treatments in the medieval era

Most people in medieval times never saw a doctor. Peasants might seek treatment in a variety of ways.

  • They could visit the local wise-woman, who was skilled in the use of herbs.
  • Monasteries, eg Tintern, Strata Florida and Neath had infirmaries and monks with knowledge of herbal cures.
  • The priest might use the power of prayer, or might suggest a pilgrimage to a holy shrine, eg a visit to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury, which was said could cure epilepsy or leprosy.
There were over 200 holy wells in Wales with supposedly curative powers. The waters of Ffynnon Enddwyn in Meirionnydd were said to cure the lame, while water from St Mary's Well (Ffynnon Fair) in Penrhys, Rhondda was used to treat eye problems.
Grainy black and white photograph of an elderly man in a bowler hat and suit
Dyn hysbys Evan Griffiths from Pantybenni in 1928

  • Across Wales dynion hysbys (wise men) were consulted for all sorts of reasons, eg to cure illnesses, to find lost people and possessions or to lift curses. They usually affected their cures by giving a piece of paper on which would be written some words in English or Latin, often accompanied by occult symbols.
  • The barber surgeon would pull out teeth, set broken bones and perform minor operations, as well as cut hair.

These cures were a mixture of superstition, religion and herbal remedies, some of which are still used today.