Medieval monks in Cambridge ‘full of parasites’ – easy to see why UK News

Medieval monks living in Cambridge were ‘full of parasites’ due to questionable gardening practices, a study has shown.

Despite living in a highly regarded Augustinian monastery – where clergy would read manuscripts from far and wide – their problems with intestinal worms were no small thing.

According to a study by the University of Cambridge, Augustinian monks were twice as likely to be infected with worms as the general population in the city.

While their monasteries had toilets and handwashing facilities, unlike ordinary working people’s houses, the researchers revealed that these monks preferred to fertilize garden crops with their own dung — and purchased fertilizers that contained human or pig dung.

Founded in the 1280s, the Augustinian monastery lasted until 1538, after which it suffered the fate of most English monasteries: closed or destroyed as part of King Henry VIII’s break with Rome.

“The friars in medieval Cambridge appear to be full of parasites,” said study lead author Dr Pierce Mitchell.

“This is the first time anyone has tried to figure out how common parasites are in people living different lifestyles in the same medieval town.”

If roundworms and whipworms were spread due to poor hygiene, the researchers believe that the difference in infection rates between monks and the general population must be due to how each group handled their human waste.

Dr Mitchell said: “One possibility is that monks fertilised their vegetable gardens with human faeces, which was not uncommon in the Middle Ages, and this may have led to repeated infestations of the worms.”

Despite an increase in the prevalence of worms, people buried in medieval England monasteries lived longer than those in parish cemeteries, possibly due to a more nutritious diet and the luxury of wealth, according to previous research.

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