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Monks. Parasites
August 29, 2022, 3:30 PM admin

It’s OFFICIAL. Monks were a bunch of parasites

  •   New research reveals they were riddled with parasitic worms
  •   Even though they had latrines and hand-washing facilities

The reason: Monks used to manure crops with their own faeces.


An archaeological investigation run by the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, has just discovered that Medieval Cambridge Augustinian friars were riddled with worms.

Not only that but they were also twice as likely as the city’s general population to be infected by intestinal parasites.

This new discovery is even more fascinating because Augustinian monasteries of the period had latrine blocks and hand-washing facilities, unlike the houses of ordinary working people, but somehow were more riddled with worms.

Researchers at Cambridge University say the difference in parasitic infection may be down to monks manuring crops in friary gardens with their own faeces, or purchasing fertiliser containing human or pig excrement.

The study, published in the International Journal of Paleopathology , is the first to compare parasite prevalence in people from the same medieval community who were living different lifestyles.

The discovery was made by taking sediment samples from the pelvis, along with control samples from feet and skulls, of 19 burials of Augustinian Friars (13th-16th century), and 25 burials from All Saints by the Castle parish cemetery (10th-14th century) all in Cambridge. The sediment was analysed using micro-sieving and digital light microscopy to identify the eggs of intestinal parasites.

The investigation discovered that parasite prevalence (roundworm and whipworm) in the Augustinian friars was 58%, and in the All Saints by the Castle parishioners just 32%. But it has also been acknowledged that the quality of egg preservation was suboptimal, so the data may even under-represent the true prevalence.

As roundworm and whipworm are spread by poor sanitation, researchers argue that the difference in infection rates between the friars and the general population must have been due to how each group dealt with their human waste. If they were using human waste as manure to grow their food then this would explain why their rates were so much higher than the general population and other monasteries.

Says the report produced by Cambridge University,

“While parasites were widespread in medieval Europe, very little work has been undertaken to compare how the risk of contracting different species may vary with a person’s lifestyle.

“A range of intestinal parasites have been identified from medieval and early modern excavations in northern Europe including whipworm, roundworm, beef tapeworm, pork tapeworm, fish tapeworm, liver flukes, and protozoa that cause dysentery (Mitchell, 2015).

“Some types of parasitic worm are contracted by the contamination of food and drink by faeces (Ziegelbauer et al., 2012), but other parasites are caught by eating raw, smoked, pickled or salted meats or fish (Ledger and Mitchell, 2019).

“If we study parasites in the general population and compare with those leading specific lifestyles with different diets and occupation, such as the clergy, we can start to investigate this topic in a meaningful way. Similar comparison of the human skeletal remains of monasteries with the general population has found significant differences. For example, analysis of human remains from medieval monasteries has shown the clergy had a longer life expectancy than those in nearby parish cemeteries (De Witte et al., 2013), potentially from their more nourishing diet.”

The report talks about Medieval sanitation in England

“Sanitation in medieval towns in England was based upon the cesspit toilet. These holes dug into the ground were used for human faeces and other household waste (Magnusson, 2013), with numerous examples identified from excavations in Cambridge (Cessford and Dickens 2019). While they did not have a network of underground sewers as used by the Romans, that also meant the sewers could not flood or get blocked sending sewage back into people’s houses (Hall and Kenward, 2015, Murray, 2000, Taylor, 2015).

“The sanitation system of monasteries, in comparison with its contemporaries, was typically better planned. At a time when even the aristocratic households did not usually possess running water systems, it was a common feature of monastery design (Singman, 1999). A raised cistern was typical, from which water drawn by gravity ran through channels diverting water through all the working areas in the monastery, including the latrine (Bond, 2017).

“However, urban monasteries such as the friary of the Augustinians in Cambridge did not always have access to such a flowing fresh water supply, and the latrines of the friary have not yet been identified as only part of the site has been excavated. Nevertheless, it would be expected that the Augustinian friars might have been more sanitary than the general public as the role of water and hygiene was regarded as necessary in the rule of Saint Benedict, which regulated all aspects of monastic life (Kerr, 2009, Winchester and Riyeff, 2017). The Cambridge friars followed the 1290 rule of the Augustinian mendicant order, known as the Ratisbon Constitutions (Cendoya, 1966), which incorporated the 13th-century mendicant practices of other orders of friars.”



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