Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed

Archaeologists finally identify find as Flanders' oldest hernia bandage

A hernia bandage recovered in Aalst (East Flanders) and dating from the eighteenth century is believed to be the oldest hernia bandage of its kind ever found in Flanders.  The bandage was discovered fifteen years ago, but it took archaeologists a decade and a half to find out what the item was actually used for.

Archaeologists started excavations at Aalst’s Hop Market in 2004.  The excavations lasted two years.  During the Middle Ages several houses and a monastry stood on this spot.  Fifteen years later some of the finds are still giving up their secrets.

Archaeologists found a hernia bandage but didn’t know what it was.  Jan Moens of the Immovable Heritage Agency explains that research into a codex allowed scientists to establish what the object was used for and to identify the person who used it. 

The bandage was used by people suffering from hernia inguinalis.  Patients display a gap in the side of the belly that allows the intestines to jut out.  The bandage found in Aalst was made of metal and leather and included a ball that put pressure on the wound to keep everything inside and in place.

Hernia bandages have been around for centuries but few have survived.  Several came to light in the Netherlands, but this is the oldest find in Flanders.

Separate research into a codex kept at Leuven University led to the breakthrough.  Codex 156 includes accounts from the Carmelite monastery between 1738 and 1796.  The codex speaks of Brother Patrick, who suffered a hernia. In 1754 the monastery paid five stivers for the hernia bandage.

“The bandage was pretty cheap.  It’s around the price of a chicken” says Moens. 

A listing four years later identifies the wearer, Brother Patrick.

“That’s quite exceptional” says Moens “That after research we are able to link a face to an object from the eighteenth century that was shrouded in mystery for so long.”

Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed

Top stories