In the Monastic Pharmacy

5 June 2020 - 31 March 2021

In the Monastic Pharmacy / W klasztornej aptece

Place ul. Benedyktyńska 37, 30-398 Kraków, POLAND
Organizer Benedyktyński Instytut Kultury / The Benedictine Institute of Culture
More info

The complicated organisational system of medieval monasteries is fascinating to us even today. For centuries, as self-sufficient establishments, they have been combining the function of spiritual and intellectual centres with a whole infrastructure, from food production to caring for the sick.
In consequence of the collapse of the Roman Empire, monasteries slowly turned into places providing organised medical assistance, not available elsewhere in Europe for some centuries. Thanks to monasteries, the knowledge from ancient medical treatises has been preserved. Medicinal plants were grown and medicine was produced from them. The monks used the knowledge of ancient physicians, but also conducted their own observations of the properties of herbs and described them meticulously.
The Rule of St Benedict pays special attention to caring for sick monks. It was with them in mind that infirmaries (that is, hospitals) and pharmacies were organised. The latter were supplied with medicine produced on site based on herb gardens. Moreover, the monasteries did not refuse help to their guests, both those from the vicinity and pilgrims. With time, more and more pharmacies were being opened to people from the outside.
The development of medical science at universities, the establishment of the professions of a medic and pharmacist as well as the spread of secular pharmacies influenced the decline of the importance of monasteries in the field of medical aid. Nevertheless, the convents whose mission focused on helping the sick and needy remained active. They ran hospitals and pharmacies that are often still operating today.
In the exhibition, we want to delve into the history of monastic pharmacies and hospitals, as well as to benefit from the wisdom of the monks, who were putting into practice the idea of “a sound mind in a sound body.” While focusing their lives on spiritual matters, they were also intentionally remembering to care for the health of their temporal bodies, in order to be able to serve God with full strength.