With sky-high levels of maternal mortality, obstetric science virtually non-existent, and the threat of infectious diseases always around the corner, medieval pregnant women put their faith in talismans to provide divine protection during childbirth.
From charms to precious stones, the list of items the church loaned to pregnant women was considerable, but the most popular lucky charm was a “birthing belt.”
Now researchers say they have definitive evidence that these girdles were not only revered during pregnancy, but were also worn during childbirth.
The researchers analyzed one such item found in the Wellcome collection, made from four stitched sheepskin parchment strips dating from the late 15th or early 16th century. The scroll, adorned with multiple symbols of divinity, including a crucifix, showed signs of wear, suggesting that it had been touched, rubbed or kissed as part of religious veneration.
Using a non-invasive technique developed in conjunction with conservationists a few years ago, the researchers used erasers to gently clean the parchment’s surface and collect crumbs that would normally fly away, said lead author Sarah Fiddyment, of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.
Previously, the technique was used to identify animal species by looking for collagen, the most abundant protein found in skin, but until now it has never been applied to a parchment document to look at other proteins, he said.
“I think on one level we thought there would be blood and on another level we thought there might be mouse poop,” said author Natalie Goodison of Durham University.
Instead, the researchers found evidence of cervicovaginal fluid, as well as honey, milk, eggs, legumes (lima beans and possibly garden peas), as well as cereals, they said. wrote in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Scholars and historical texts have long suggested that pregnant women wore such girdles, and that herbal remedies were used during childbirth, Fiddyment noted. “[But]We won’t really know unless someone can go to a lab, analyze it, and tell us. So that’s effectively what we are doing, ”he said.
Childbirth was dangerous in medieval Europe. While only nine out of 100,000 women died in childbirth in England in 2013, it was thought to have been the leading cause of death among women in early medieval England.
The latest analysis consolidates the idea that women were actively invoking ritual and religion, bordering on magic, to calm their nerves during childbirth, despite the fact that at the time Christian reformers forbade it.
With the start of the Reformation, some Christians moved away from the Catholic tradition of worshiping the saints and endorsing superstition, Goodison said. “Therefore, it also represents a time in history when … the authorities began to ban the use of birthing girdles, but they were highly sought after.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism