Healers, Quacks, Professionals: Monastery Pharmacies in the Rural Medical Marketplace


Katalin Pataki

Abstract. This study focuses on the role of monasteries in the medical provision of the late eighteenth-century Hungarian Kingdom, with a special interest in monastery pharmacies located in rural environments. These pharmacies and their apothecaries were gradually disappearing agents of the medical marketplace from the 1770s as a result of the strengthening endeavor of the Habsburg rulers to control the professional standards and business activity of the medical personnel in their realms. This effort coincided with the introduction of new church policies that aimed at reducing the number of monasteries and channeling their resources into pastoral care. By pointing at the impact of ecclesiastical reforms on the medical oeconomy, I argue that state interference did not merely fill the gaps in the medical supply, but it also redefined the already existing networks and activity of various practitioners, as it can be seen from the examples of the apothecary-surgeon brothers of religious orders. I will present three case studies through which I will shed light on the local embeddedness of three monastery pharmacies, namely: the Franciscans of Keszthely, the Capuchins of Hatvan, and the Paulines of Lepoglava. I will explore how successfully (or unsuccessfully) the dissolution of these monasteries could put an end to the activity of the lay brothers who were in charge of running their pharmacies and often fulfilled the tasks of surgeons, too, both inside and outside their monasteries. By exploring the ambiguities surrounding these healers, who were simultaneously associated with a stable place and with the image of itinerant healers and who routinely crossed the borders between domestic and public, charitable and commercialized, professional and popular healing practices, I will also show why they could not be compatible with the standardizing endeavors of the state.

Keywords: monastery, pharmacy, apothecary, rural medicine, state building, institutionalization, professionalization, quacks.

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