Saturday, November 16, 2013

Searching for Healing 2000 Years Ago

On a recent trip my husband and I went to Bath, a lovely small city in the south of England. The place is name for the hot spring that has been an attraction for millennia. Bath was founded in 860. Legend tells that Prince Bladud became afflicted with leprosy. He was banished from court and made to look after pigs. The pigs too had a skin condition; Bladud noticed that, when they rolled in the hot mud, they were healed. He tried it himself and was cured of his disease. He went on to found Bath and become the father of King Lear. 

Centuries earlier, the Romans had been interested in the healing properties of the spring. In 50 AD they built a temple to Minerva, the Roman goddess of healing, and the Celtic god Sul. They also constructed a bath complex, with water supplied by the hot spring. Around these a settlement grew up known as Aquae Sulis, the waters of Sul. Today the remains of the temple and the baths are displayed in a wonderful museum, which includes sculpture, inscriptions, items lost when they were dropped in the water, and a skeleton of an ancient Roman with a reconstruction to show how he looked in life.

Some of the inscriptions are gravestones, a couple of them of Roman soldiers. These were young men by today’s standards, men in their twenties to mid-forties who died far from home. Roman soldiers formed cooperative associations that would pay for gravestones when one of them died so we now know their names, sometimes their ages, and places of birth. Did they come here hoping to find a remedy for war injuries or illnesses? I came away with a sense of how difficult life must have been for these people.

Today leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is treated with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and immunosuppressants.