Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Travel Tuesday: Disturbing Artifacts in the Royal College of Physicians, London

Good for what ails you. Also a tasty snack!
I just got back from a research trip to England and managed to get a day in London to see friends and pop into a couple of museums. I made a point of going to the Royal College of Physicians, which has an excellent exhibition on the famous scientist and occultist John Dee. I'll be writing that up for Black Gate tomorrow for my usual Wednesday post. Today, though, I'd like to share some of the medical artifacts they have in their regular collection. If you like to complain about the level of your health care, just be glad you weren't born a couple of hundred years ago!
A surgeon's kit from 1653. Many of the original instruments are still in it.
"Hold still, this won't hurt a bit." Contrary to popular belief, surgeon's sometimes did use painkillers before the invention of general anesthesia. Opium was common, as was alcohol.

A preserved baby's caul from the 19th century.
Gold "touch piece" coins c. 1660-1685. These were used in public healing ceremonies by British monarchs from the 15th century onwards, although the belief that a monarch could heal by touch dates to far earlier. It was believed that God granted the monarch the ability to cure scrofula ("the King's illness") a form of tuberculosis. Charles I cured some 100,000 of his subjects by placing one of these around their neck. They were worn at the end of a ribbon like a pendant and were called "angels" after the image of the Archangel Michael that decorates them. George I ended this practice in the 18th century, thinking it was all silly superstition. With the modern rise of new strains of TB, perhaps Queen Elizabeth will renew the practice?


D.G. Hudson said...

Leeches give me the shudders. I still remember Katharine Hepburn picking them off Bogart in 'The African Queen'. Museums are such interesting places, I never tire of them.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Simple people to think a coin would heal...

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