Archaeologist from the University of Cambridge examines human remains from the Middle Ages
Photo: Cambridge Archaeological Unit
Actually, monks in the Middle Ages mostly had it more pleasant than most of their contemporaries.
They lived in relative safety in their monasteries, kept libraries and did research, they grew their own food in their gardens.
Some monasteries even had a water supply with sinks and toilets - hygienic conditions that people in the Middle Ages could otherwise only dream of.
Most of them dug outhouses or just threw their feces out into the street.
It is all the more astonishing that monks in Cambridge were infected with parasites almost twice as often as normal city dwellers.
This is the result of an archaeological study by the University of Cambridge.
The scientists examined the remains of 19 monks and 25 villagers.
In the soil in the pelvis area of the skeletons they searched for the eggs of worms.
Their result: 58 percent of the monks were infected, but only 32 percent of the normal villagers.
Roundworm was the most commonly found, but whipworm also made an appearance, archaeologist Tianyi Wang, one of the authors of the study, told the BBC.
"Both spread when the sanitary situation is bad." And this was actually much better in monasteries than elsewhere.
Aloe and mugwort didn't help
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Even the physicians of the Middle Ages recognized that parasites posed a problem for humans.
They cause diarrhea and problems with eating, some affect the lungs, and in high concentrations life-threatening intestinal obstruction.
The physician John Stockton, who died in 1361, noted that worms might be caused by different types of mucus.
He prescribed "bitter medicinal plants" such as aloe and mugwort to his patients.
Apparently that didn't help with the monks, who lived around the same time.
But where did the parasite infestation come from?
One of the authors of the study, Piers Mitchell, from the University of Cambridge Archaeology, told the BBC: "One possibility is that the monks fertilized their vegetable gardens with human excrement - this was not uncommon in the Middle Ages and could lead to repeated infections with the worms.«
Apparently, the monks themselves unwittingly betrayed their sanitary advances by collecting their faeces separately, but then scattering them on the beds in the monastery gardens.
Parasites are still a problem today.
It is estimated that around one fifth of the world's population is infected with worms.
Doctors advise washing your hands before every meal and not eating food that has been contaminated with feces.