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Department of History

Sarah Gilbert

Anglo-Saxon medical recipes in non-medical manuscripts: matters of culture, context and community

Research Interests

  • Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman manuscript culture and palaeography (particularly marginalia and additions)
  • Medieval concepts of the supernatural
  • Anglo-Saxon medicine
  • Early medieval theology
  • Modern games (particularly MMORPG) and their uses of medieval themes and stories
  • Cryptography and codes ancient, medieval, and modern

PhD topic

For my PhD I am examining Anglo-Saxon medical recipes and charms copied into non-medical manuscripts c. 800–1100. These medical annotations are tangible examples of Anglo-Saxon interaction with texts and books both contemporaneous with, and after, the initial copying of the 'main text'. It is the aim of my research project to gain a better understanding of attitudes to books, the permeability of texts, and cultural identity among Anglo-Saxons in religious orders.

I am approaching this topic along three lines of investigation: palaeographical, medical, and theological. The medical recipes are copied by good and bad scribes, onto flyleaves and the main text blocks in manuscripts, sometimes hundreds of years after the main text had been copied. The content of the recipes is important for our understanding of early medieval medical culture, especially since these recipes have often been overlooked as they have been preserved outside of the main medical collections. Finally, these recipes were copied by men in religious orders, which allows us to glimpse the world views of educated Anglo-Saxons and how they reconciled the practicalities of disease, pain, and death with their understanding of the natural and supernatural order of the world.


A discussion of a medieval flyleaf from Anglo-Saxon England


Seminar leader in 2014–2015 for The Birth of Western Society 350–1050


H. M. Chadwick Award holder 2010-11
Kathleen Hughes Memorial Award holder 2010-11
Durham Doctoral Scholarship Award holder 2013-2016


November 2014 - Interviewed on Durham Student Union's 'Purple Radio' about medievalism and modern gaming.