The Magic of Medicine: Faith and Healing – A History

Why does a medical college own Elizabeth I’s magician’s library? What connects Regent’s Park’s ‘druids’ to modern pharmacology? Were the ‘witches’ of the 17th century victims of professional healthcare rivalry? 

John Dee Performing an Experiment Before Elizabeth I by Henry Gillard Glindoni 1852-1913 copyright Wellcome  Library, Wellcome Collection Large Version - Copy

Today, the practice of medicine is largely shaped by scientific principles. New treatments, cures and methods are subject to rigorous testing and evidence is required, or at least desired, for diagnosis, prognosis and prescription.

Once, medicine was an art, a branch of natural philosophy orCN8080 - Ptolemy - Quadriparti, 1519, horoscope - RCP-Mike Fear 1000px an adjunct of religious and superstitious beliefs. Physicians of the body and the soul were as likely to prescribe penance as they were medication, used horoscopes rather than stethoscopes and were as concerned with a patient’s morality as their pulse.

This fascinating exploration of the mystical underpinnings of medical procedure through time explores the classical, pagan, Christian and other faiths that have informed the art of healing. Join us as we unearth unexpected evidence of the influence these belief systems have played right up to the recent past, and question whether personal conviction is still at the heart of healthcare in the 21st century.

Reliquary Hand V&A

Discover, amongst many other intriguing sites, the location of a baptismal pool turned arthritis ward, medical text books that read like collections of spells, a garden of herbal remedies proven to work, the convent that became a nursing school and a Chinese chair of blades used to soothe not torture. 

Take a journey through medicine’s magical past and complex, contested present and we may even conjure up answers to those elusive questions above… were ‘witches’ really clinicians in disguise?

The walk concludes at the galleries and library of The Wellcome Collection. 

For dates visit Our Calendar page here. To arrange a private group tour any time contact us by email at 

The walk commences at The Royal College of Physicians  and lasts between 2½ and 3 hours including a highlights tour of the Royal College, its museum and collections*. 

The tour costs £12 per person click here to book online  BOOKONLINELOGO_large

A small number of tickets are available on a turn up and pay basis on the day. These places are limited and payment should be made to the guide in cash. 


“The Magic of Medicine” is also available as a private tour at any time by prior arrangement, subject to a minimum charge.

For further details or to make a group booking for a private tour please contact us at 

* On occasion access to the Royal College of Physicians may be limited due to events or works being carried out.

Click here for a map and directions to the Royal College of Physicians.



Click here for more information on The Wellcome Collection