The Middle Ages - the Development of Barber-Surgeons

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The Middle Ages - the Development of Barber-Surgeons

During the early part of the Medieval period most of the healing arts were performed by priests or monks. Consequently, the majority of medical treatments, which included bloodletting, was done by this group. However, at the Council of Rheims in 1131 and again at the Council of Tours in 1163, clergy and monks were instructed to abandon medicinal efforts and focus on their pastorial duties. The resulting void led to the development of the barber-surgeons who, in addition to cutting hair, pulled teeth, lanced boils, amputated limbs, and performed bloodletting. This void also launched the careers of many quacks and charlatans who recognized that adding bloodletting, surgery, and pulling teeth to their services of miraculous cures would be a means to increase their revenue. There is evidence that the first Guild of Barber-Surgeons was possibly founded in France in 1096. In 1210 a Guild was founded in England and existed until 1744. This Guild was divided into two distinct groups: Surgeons-of-the-long robe and Surgeons-of-the-short-robe. The former were allowed to do major surgery while the latter were considered to be lay barbers or surgeons and were limited to doing only bloodletting, wound surgery, cupping, leeching, shaving, extraction of teeth, and giving enemas.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Barber-Surgeons at work