Tra­di­tional medical men tended to focus pri­marily on the body, espe­cially, when writing about women, on the uterus, as the primary source of physical and psy­cho­logical dis­comfort. They believed that both physical and mental disease were the result of fluc­tu­a­tions in bodily fluids, called humors. In order to cure an ailment, con­ven­tional Galenic doctors typ­i­cally rec­om­mended a change in diet and per­formed a phle­botomy, or blood­letting. A common diag­nosis for women was melan­cholia, which was asso­ciated with fragility, dis­e­qui­librium, loss of control, ner­vousness, and excessive emo­tion­alism. Melan­cholia in women was rou­tinely described as hys­teria, also known as “woman’s disease” (hys­terika means “uterus” in Greek), a man­i­fes­tation of which was inar­tic­u­lateness. Any disease, from a migraine to an ingrown toenail could be attributed to hysteria.

However, women reli­gious rarely dis­cussed the uterus, except when con­sid­ering issues such as men­stru­ation. Instead, they saw pain as a spir­itual expe­rience that enabled them to share Christ’s suf­fering. Rather than con­ven­tional med­ical­rea­tises, they looked to the writings of “mys­tical medics,” notably Bernardino de Laredo (1482–1540), who saw the body as a vehicle for spir­itual enlightenment.

What I Would Have Liked to Say but Couldn’t

Unfor­tu­nately, pub­lishers impose restric­tions on length. When writing an article for a book or journal, one always winds up leaving out much inter­esting research. In the case of “Chron­icles of Pain,” I would have liked to include much more extensive accounts of the writings early modern medics, in par­ticular, those of Alonso de Santa Cruz, Girolamo Mer­cu­riale, Pietro Andrea Mat­tioli, and the fas­ci­nating Olivia Sabuco. I would also have liked to explore the writings of a greater variety of women. However, I am thrilled that this book is coming out and wish it a long and pros­perous journey. Many thanks to the editors! 

Intel­lectual Provocation

Readers will dis­cover that a con­fluence of currents—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim med­icine, reli­gious beliefs about pos­session and sorcery, other kinds of super­stition, folk beliefs from Europe and the Americas—influenced health prac­tices in the early modern world. Thus, this book will encourage scholars and stu­dents to look at early modern health prac­tices in a new way. Most impor­tantly, it illus­trates to what extent approaches to healthcare were gen­dered. Con­ven­tional Galenists essen­tially reduced women to their uteruses and saw both physical and mental illness as a man­i­fes­tation of a deviant womb. However, gender was not the only deter­minant of how illness was viewed. Writing this article has been an eye-opener for me, as it has led me to delve more deeply into the teachings of the “mys­tical medic,” Bernardino de Laredo, who developed a complex system thought on the mys­tical aspect of illness. For Laredo, the spir­itual could be reached only through the cor­poreal. Through sophis­ti­cated medical rea­soning, he showed that the body was the starting point for self-knowledge and spir­itual med­i­tation. For women reli­gious such as Teresa de Ávila, this approach to pain was deeply mean­ingful. I think this book will change rad­i­cally the direction of early modern healthcare studies.