chapter  2
24 Pages

Ritual and public health in the early medieval city

ByPeregrine Horden

This chapter illustrates how the balance can be struck, while unconsciously echoing Hocart on the significance and efficacy of ritual. It explores the 'ritualist' approach to the history of public health is that its scope is, or ought to be, much wider than the early Middle Ages. The chapter discusses chronologically outside the early Middle Ages to offer some partial indication of how we might proceed. The theme remains the intersection of 'material' and 'ritual' conceptions of public health, especially as they bear on the perception or management of urban space. The conception of health here is more ample than that of biomedicine. In 1946 the World Health Organization famously, and rashly, defined health as 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being'—a state seldom attainable outside California. On a modern definition of health, the dietary prescriptions that are dotted around the penitential corpus have been seen as promoting hygiene in food preparation.