Hidden past of Methodism’s founding father revealed in heritage exhibition

As one of the founding fathers of Methodism, John Wesley iswell-known throughout the world as a Christian evangelist. But hisexperiments into producing cures for the sick are not often talkedabout - until now.

An exhibition revealing the surprising and illuminating history ofWesley's wild and wonderful medical ideas will tour the countryfrom 2 April until 30 September, visiting Epworth, Bristol,Launceston, Englesea Brook, London and Newcastle. The exhibition,entitled Wesleyand Well-being, will explore Wesley's medicinal manual,Primitive Physic, which was so popular in its day that it wasrepublished 23 times, making it an 18th century best-seller.

Although some of his "cures" were denounced by 18th century criticsas "possibly deadly", his thinking was occasionally ahead of histime: honey is used in many of his remedies, even though itsantiseptic and antibacterial properties have only been recentlyconfirmed by science. It was only in the 1700s that medicine inWestern Europe began to be a respectable profession and care forthe sick was not seen as an extension of the pastoral care providedby the Church.

Jo Hibbard, Methodist Heritage Officer, said: "When Wesley'sPrimitive Physic was published in 1747, doctors were still morelikely to kill at a price than cure for a fee. Wesley wanted to putthe knowledge of curing diseases into ordinary people's hands. Someof his remedies, such as holding a live puppy over the stomach tocure colic, sound comic to us today. But, to Wesley's credit, if hethought a critic's claim was well-founded, then he would makechanges in the next edition."

Wesley opened free clinics in London and dispensaries in London,Bristol and Newcastle. He took remedies and cures from otherpublished medical books and re-wrote them in plain English. Hetried to make all the remedies cheap and easy to get hold of and heasked his preachers to sell his book, encouraging them to add theirown cures. He provided remedies and preventions on a range ofailments and diseases, from headaches to the plague, and gout toobesity. His "cures" ranged from advising people to exercise aroundtwo to three hours a day in order to "soften the evils of life" todrying and powdering a toad into small pills in order to help easeasthma.

Dr Richard Vautrey, Former Vice-President of the MethodistConference and a practising GP, said: "John Wesley took the commandto 'love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind'seriously, working to ensure that Methodists were not onlynurturing their spiritual health but looking after their physicalhealth as well. Whilst some of his ideas belong in the 18thcentury, many are as relevant today as they were then. AllMethodists today would do well to follow his advice by increasingthe amount of exercise we do and reducing the amount of salt in ourdiets. By doing so whilst our hearts may still be "strangelywarmed" - as Wesley's was - they won't overheat!"

The Church's Olympic and Paralympic Co-ordinator Ish Lennox issupporting the exhibition along with More Than Gold. "TheMethodist influence on Britain's sporting heritage can be seenclearly in the history of football," she said. "Aston Villa FC wasformed in March 1874 by four members of the Villa Cross WesleyanChapel. Walter Tull was brought up in the Methodist orphanage inBethnal Green. He was one of Britain's first black footballers,playing for Tottenham Hotspur."

A souvenir leaflet for visitors will explain not only Wesley'sinterest in health but how the Church has used sport as a means ofservice and outreach since the 19th century.