Birthing girdle

Type: Amulets, Scrolls
Date: ca. 1500
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): England
Medium: Parchment
Dimensions: 332 × 10 cm
Description: This is a birthing girdle or belt—a long, narrow scroll made of four pieces of parchment stitched together and wrapped around a woman's abdomen during childbirth. Repeated use has made the pigment flake and fade, but enough survives to recognize prayers in Latin and English meant to protect the mother and repel evil spirits. The prayers invoke Christ and numerous saints, including Quiricus and his mother, Julitta, and such other female saints as Anne, Catherine, and Margaret. The images on the girdle all relate to the Passion of Christ: three nails from the Crucifixion, the instruments of the Passion (including the dice the Roman soldiers played with beneath the cross), the wound in Jesus's side, Jesus standing, as well as the cross and the monogram IHS, "Jesus Christ Savior." The verso text states that the length of the roll is proportionate to the height of the Virgin Mary.

Recent analysis of proteins preserved on the parchment revealed cervical or vaginal fluids. The girdle must have been considered an effective childbirth aid; otherwise it would not have been preserved. Additional protein traces on the scroll are associated with honey, eggs, milk, grains, and legumes, and medieval medical texts describe mixtures of these substances inserted into the womb to facilitate childbirth.

Protective talismans like this girdle were banned in the sixteenth century after England established its own Church and broke away from Rome. Nevertheless, women continued to use them for another century.

Similar uses of amuletic scrolls existed in the Islamicate world and can be seen represented in a childbirth scene from the Maqamat of al-Wasiti.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 11
Image Credits: Wellcome Library (on Wikimedia Commons), Wellcome Library, MS.632

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