The bubonic plague also known as “Black Death” was an epidemic that spread throughout Europe. It was known as the “black death” due to the color of one’s infected skin and tumors. This plague was the worst epidemics in history and it spread from Mongolia to Europe when a Genoese ship arrived at a Sicilian port in 1347. Most of the people aboard were greatly ill or were already dead when the ship arrived. In the early 1340’s this disease had already spread throughout Asia (China, India), Persia, and Syria before it arrived in Europe (History, 2010). “By 1350, the disease had spread throughout Scandinavia, and Northern Russia which also spread southward” (Cole, Symes, Coffin & Stacey 2012, P238). The deadly disease was extremely contagious and killed millions of people.
The disease, scientifically known as Yersinia Pestis was passed on by fleas to rats because the fleas were infected with the bacteria. The disease spread throughout the rat population. From there it spread to humans. This disease can rapidly spread from one person to another, through the atmosphere, or a bite from infected rats or fleas. Boccaccio stated that the symptoms were “swellings, either on the groin or under the armpits that were the size of an apple or an egg” These boils were named as “plague boils” (History, 2010). These were then followed by “fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, terrible aches, and pains (History, 2010).” People who were in a perfect, healthy shape could immediately die a painful death in just twenty-four hours after being infected by either a person, or rats.
Between the years of 1340 to 1347, the disease killed one-third to one-half of the European population (Cole et al 2012, P238). Not only had it affected many people but animals were also affected. Many people were starving because food supplies were short as a result of animals such as sheep, cows, chickens, and pigs dying from the disease. Many people fled from their towns and abandoned their loved ones who caught the disease. People responded in many ways during the bubonic plague. Some people believed that it was God’s punishment, the ones who were not infected isolated themselves, fled, or tried to protect themselves in ritualistic ways such as through self-flagellation.
According to the “Black Plague” article, (The Black Plague, n.d.) physicians had no explanations for the disease. People believed that the plague was a punishment that was sent from God due to all of the sins that they had committed. Most people believed the theory that “God struck the world with a great punishment because of the sins of men” as in the article “Making sense of the black death” by Lydia Searle (Searle, 2012). For example, “gambling, excessive drinking, the immodesty of women and the laziness of peasants”, those were the sins that churches immediately disapprove of or is quick to condemn (The Black Plague, n.d.). However, not only the evildoers were infected but also many innocent people and young children suffered from the horrifying disease. People believed that the only way for God to forgive them was by punishing them through the disease. People also prayed frequently by asking for forgiveness and by confessing all of their sins. Some people also believed that the Jewish communities were the cause of the plague. Thousands of Jews were persecuted in 1348 and 1349 (History, 2010). The Jewish people lived in an isolated place which means they were less affected by the disease. People believed that they were the ones who were poisoning the wells.
Some people who were not infected by the Yersinia Pestis immediately took action by fleeing from infected areas and this caused the disease to spread even more rapidly (P238). The disease was spreading so rapidly that many people could not escape from the terrible disease. Some people isolated themselves from the ones who were infected. Doctors and priests refused to assist the ill, and many stores were closed. Many people abandoned their loved ones that were extremely ill, although, it was surely difficult for them to do so. Wealthier people who were capable of moving away could easily remove themselves from the town that was filled with the deadly disease but unfortunately, those who were incapable of escaping due to their finances were not able to take the same action. Some people believed that there were remedies such as herbals, and scents that could protect them from catching the disease. Some also practiced dieting. Lastly, people practiced living their lives healthier by balancing their lives. They believed being “neither too happy nor sad” could simply avoid the problem (The Black Plague, n.d.).
The Flagellants were a religious group that travelled from town to town to practice their rituals three times a day. Usually, the flagellants would practice their ritual in a public place by whipping themselves with a scourge until they bled uncontrollably. They practiced the ritual because they seek atonement for their sins from God. People were encouraged to join in the ceremony and people would often die from beating themselves to death. The harm that they caused to themselves was not useful at all. In fact, they were spreading the disease wherever they went. The only good they did for those around them was giving hope and comfort to those who felt they were weak and powerless in a situation such as the bubonic plague.
The Black Death was the most horrifying disease in the history of Europe. The Yesinia Pestis caused millions of deaths of people and animals. If this plague had not occurred, Europe may have become a very different place than it is today. Many people questioned God and suffered religiously. Many people were orphaned, living in fear, shocked and reacted in many different ways. They believed that it was God’s punishment because of their sins. Some believed that the only way to escape the deadly disease was to isolate themselves, flee as far away as they could, or practice rituals as the flagellants did. Unfortunately, their responses usually made it worse for themselves and those around them. The disease was extremely contagious, dangerous, and terrifying. No one escaped from the terror of this Black Death.
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