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Durham University

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Barbara Hargreaves

The hagiography of healthcare in twelfth-century English saints’ Lives in the Department of History

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Barbara comes to this research from a career in the NHS, where she worked clinically as a registered nurse and midwife before moving into managerial roles, finishing her time in the NHS as Head of Learning and Development at Barts and The London NHS Trust, London. She then worked with VSO for two years, coordinating health programmes in Eastern Province, Zambia. Alongside working, Barbara gained a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Theology and a Masters degree in Theology (Medieval Church History), at Heythrop College, University of London. In 2016, she completed a Masters degree by research at Durham University, with a thesis on the subject of monastic death ritual in twelfth-century England.

This research considers the hagiographical articulation of matters pertaining to health, sickness and dying as expressed in the Lives of twelfth-century English saints. The aim is to identify what the hagiographers chose to write about in their descriptions of the health and illnesses of their subjects and why they made these particular choices. This will enable the identification of themes and variations found in these healthcare narratives and allow for this to be contextualised within the aegis of changing hagiographical expression and contemporary models of sainthood in twelfth-century England.

Of necessity, this research topic will require underpinning by several cross-cutting themes in the exploration of the main area of enquiry. These include subjects such as the nature of the body, beliefs about the afterlife, the expressions of faith within a monastic community, the developing interest in and knowledge of medical science, the backgrounds against which both faith and everyday life were experienced and articulated in the twelfth century. 

Conference Papers

Dying by the Rules: the accoutrements of death in the twelfth-century monastery) Lancaster University, North West Medical Humanities Network, July 2019). 

The Death of Anselm (International Association for Anselm Studies Conference, Durham University, July 2019).

Making Monastic Meals Immaterial (International Medieval Conference, University of Leeds, July 2019). 

Doctors’ Orders: the role of the medic in twelfth-century saints’ Lives (Exeter University Medical Humanities, June 2019). 

Food as Therapy in a Medieval Monastery (Bristol University, Centre for Medieval Studies, February 2019). 

Seen, Unseen: the invisible bodies of the monastic saints (Leeds University, May 2018).

A Very Unwanted Pregnancy: the miraculous delivery of the nun of Watton (University of Reading, March 2018). 

Rites of Passage: monastic death ritual in twelfth-century England (Bristol University, Centre for Medieval Studies, March 2018).

Research Interests

  • Hagiography, Saints Lives and models of sainthood in the twelfth century
  • History of medicine and healthcare (from any period)
  • Monastic orders, their Rules and practices


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