An examination of the evidence for the existence of leprosy and Hansen's Disease in medieval Ireland

Paton, Anne Elizabeth (2015) An examination of the evidence for the existence of leprosy and Hansen's Disease in medieval Ireland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Much concerning the disease termed leprosy is accepted as received knowledge, without thought to time and place, but there were many differences in how leprosy sufferers were treated across regions and eras, and so diversity should be regarded as normal. This thesis will examine what was meant by the term leprosy during primarily the medieval period between the sixth and fifteenth centuries in Ireland in order to see if this equates with the disease called Hansen’s Disease in the twenty-first century. The focus will fall around the twelfth century, but as the majority of the extant documentary evidence is mainly from the early modern period, this will, out of necessity, also be discussed. There has been much written on what exactly leprosy was in the past and this thesis will not attempt to answer that question directly, instead its aim will be to contextualise the situation in medieval Ireland by examining the presence of leprosy in comparative terms in the Middle Ages.

Leprosy in medieval Ireland is a much neglected area of research due to the perception that there is a lack of evidence. Although extant documentary sources may be less than elsewhere in medieval Europe, this thesis will show that there are plenty of other forms of proof available. Ciara Crawford’s unpublished thesis of 2010, which examined general illness, including leprosy in the Irish annals, is the only other research undertaken this millennium regarding leprosy in medieval Ireland, as all of the other limited research in connection with this subject was undertaken during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This thesis employs all forms of extant evidence including, annals, documentary, hagiography, archaeology, paleopathology and place-names and using this multi-disciplinary approach provides confirmation of the presence of the disease, which was then termed leprosy, in medieval Ireland. This approach resulted in multiple methodological and terminology issues and this thesis will also attempt to address these in order to understand the extent and nature of leprosy in Ireland and its prevalence throughout the period under scrutiny. Employment of this multi-disciplinary approach has resulted in a surprising amount of Irish evidence concerning leprosy being gathered together for the first time. This approach enabled an image to emerge of how leprosy and its sufferers were treated and together with elsewhere, Ireland shows diverse outcomes. It must be taken into consideration however that the extant evidence is inconsistent and some geographical areas and time periods are better represented than others, resulting in an incomplete and uneven portrayal.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Leprosy, Medieval Ireland, Hagiography, Annals
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > Celtic and Gaelic
Supervisor's Name: Clancy, Prof. Thomas
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Dr Anne Elizabeth Paton
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6427
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2015 13:12
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2018 12:59

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