Mental Illness in Medieval Valencia

The event discussed in this post took place 300 miles north of Granada in the city of Valencia in 1490 (Pérez, Baldessarini, Undurraga & Sánchez-Moreno, 2012). I was visited by a neighbor who confessed to hearing voices. She also displayed sexually suggestive behavior and complained that numerous small insects were crawling on her arms (Sue, Sue, & Sue, 2013).

Medieval society was notoriously known for demonology focused treatment of mentally ill. Abnormal or erratic behavior was often associated with possession by the devil or invasion by a spirit (Katajala-Peltomaa & Niiranen, 2014).

Mental illness was also attributed to witchcraft. Mentally ill were often a target of religious prosecution because of the common belief that they have made a deal with the devil. Considering the cultural and political forces at play at that time in Valencia, she most likely would have been tortured during the inquisitorial process because her hallucinatory experiences would have been attributed to a diabolic origin. Since my neighbor exhibited symptoms of apparent possession, she would have been committed to the hospital that opened in Valencia in 1410 (Pérez et al., 2012).

The fifteenth-century Spain was associated with close interrelatedness of Christian ecclesiastical and socio-political systems; therefore, it is safe to assume that religiously based institution would have provided her with medical care in accordance with prevailing religious conception of mental illness at the time (Pérez et al., 2012). Taking into consideration the fact that my neighbor displayed overt signs of sexual disinhibition which was “considered to be contrary to basic instincts,” she would have been immediately deemed deranged (Pérez et al., 2012, p. 426). The personnel in the hospital would have used “touch of a pious man,” holy oil, exorcism and other acts of “assistance from God or His representatives” to treat the patient (Pérez et al., 2012, p.85). It is most likely that she would have been eventually discharged from Valencia hospital because it was only a transitional institution.

References

Katajala-Peltomaa, S., & Niiranen, S. (2014). Mental (dis)order in later medieval Europe. New York, NY: Brill.

Pérez, J., Baldessarini, R., Undurraga, J., & Sánchez-Moreno, J. (2012). Origins of psychiatric hospitalization in medieval Spain. Psychiatric Quarterly, 83(4), 419-430.

Sue, D., Sue, D., & Sue, S. (2013). Understanding abnormal behaviour (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.