Almost needless to say these are exactly the principles of aseptic surgery. The wine was the best antiseptic that they could use and we still use alcohol in certain cases. It would seem to many quite impossible that such operations as are described could have been done without anesthetics, but they were not done without anesthetics. There were two or three different forms of anesthesia used during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. One method employed by Ugo da Lucca consisted of the use of an inhalant. We do not know what the material employed was. There are definite records, however, of its rather frequent employment.
What a different picture of science at the medieval universities all this makes from what we have been accustomed to hear and read with regard to them. It is difficult to understand where the old false impressions came from. The picture of university work that recent historical research has given us shows us professors and students busy with science in every department, making magnificent advances, many of which were afterwards forgotten, or at least allowed to lapse into desuetude.
The positive assertions with regard to old-time ignorance were all made in the course of religious controversy. In English-speaking countries particularly it became a definite purpose to represent the old church as very much opposed to education of all kinds and above all to scientific education. There is not a trace of that to be found anywhere, but there were many documents that were appealed to to confirm the protestant view. There was a papal bull, for instance, said to forbid dissection. When read it proves to forbid the cutting up of bodies to carry them to a distance for burial, an abuse which caused the spread of disease, and was properly prohibited. The church prohibition was international and therefore effective. At the time the bull was issued there were twenty medical schools doing dissection in Italy and they continued to practise it quite undisturbed during succeeding centuries. The papal physicians were among the greatest dissectors. Dissections were done at Rome and the cardinals attended them. Bologna at the height of its fame was in the Papal States. All this has been ignored and the supposed bull against anatomy emphasized as representing the keynote of medical and surgical history. Then there was a papal decree forbidding the making of gold and silver. This was said to forbid chemistry or alchemy and so prevent scientific progress. The history of the medical schools of the time shows that it did no such thing. The great alchemists of the time doing really scientific work were all clergymen, many of them very prominent ecclesiastics.