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The Black Death

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The Black Death

Early historians argued about the origin of The Black Death. Many, Christians who witnessed the carnage brought on by The Plague, believed that it came from the Jesuits, and that the Jews had poisoned the wells and groundwater, this type of thinking brought about the death of many Jews. Some believed that it came from the 'land of darkness' (Mongolia) Modern day chroniclers agree that The Black Death moved from east to west spreading like a shadow, crossing from India to China to Europe.

Lois Sanctus of Avignon reasoned that The Plague originated in India, and notes that it had arrived on the Mediterranean coast of France in 1347. Historian and scholar Nicephorus Gregoras from Constantinople testified that in 1347 the disease had invaded humanity starting from Scythia, (southern Russia) and spread to Maeotis and the mouth of the Tanais, (Don River) and lasted throughout the year. Still another testimony from a Muslim author, Ibn al-Wardi claims that the Black Death had been present in the Mongol Empire as early as 1331 before spreading to India and China. Most historians today however agree that The Plague was carried by fleas, living on rats in the Asian Steppes, and were transported by Mongol armies moving east. The Plague would then have spread through the rest of Europe via merchant trading.

Michele Da Piazza a Franciscan friar in the convent of Catania in Sicily succumbed to the disease, but not before noting the symptoms of The Plague including pustules on the arms and legs, and that The Plague penetrated the body so that its victims coughed up blood from the mouth and nose for days before the dying. Giovanni Boccaccio, a writer from Florence noticed further symptoms, certain swellings in the groin or armpit, roughly the size of an apple, accompanied by death. Further documentation from Lois Sanctus of Avignon states that The Plague had three definitive forms, Bubonic ? Painful swelling of the lymph nodes in the arm pits and the groin. Pneumonic ? affects the respiratory system. Septicemic ? The poisoning of the blood. It was believed that one could become afflicted if you so much as looked at an infected person. The Plague would however have been spread like the common cold, through physical contact or airborne contact.

Medieval doctors of the 14th century were far lacking in the medical technology that we rely on today. Chroniclers of the Black Death attacked medical practitioners, accusing them of being cowards, incompetent and greedy. Florentine writer Matteo Villani accused doctors from every part of the world as having no remedy or effective cure for the disease. Physician Jacme D? Agramont, professor and physician at the University of Leridea in Spain blames the putrification of the air for the malady and recommends a regimen of exercise, sleep, purgation, abstinence and bleeding in order to rid the body of The Plague. A Muslim physician and poet, Abu Ja?far Ahmed Ibn Khatima, suggests that the patient receive fresh air, lots of rest and very little movement, as well as healthy food, regular bowel movements, and lots of bleeding. One of the leading medical authorities of his day, and personal physician to three Popes, Gui De Chauliac of Avignon, was stricken by the Black Death in 1348. He attributed his miraculous recovery as having escaped death by ?Gods Command?.

The impact the Black Death had on society and the economy were severe. It caused deep psychological effects on everyone. Abandonment, even of friend and family members was common. Many devout believers were losing faith in God. In a letter, penned by Italian poet, Francesco Petrarch of Florence, to a friend in Avignon. He expresses his grief at losing close friends, as well as, resentment for an overly vengeful God, who would punish men not only their crimes, but also the crimes of their fathers. One of Francesco?s peers, Giovanni Boccaccio observed the human behavior in response to The Plague. He concluded that their behavior fell into three categories: Isolation- No one can get me sick if I break contact with everyone. Denial- If I indulge myself, enjoy life, and surround myself with merriment, how could I possibly die? Moderation- If I refrain from overindulgence and gluttony, and walk a righteous path, then I will be spared from this evil. Trade and business in the aftermath of The Great Mortality was most certainly grim, but it did provide opportunity in a ghoulish way. In 1348, Agnolo Di Tura, the chronicler for the town of Siena documented. ?The leaders of the city have elected three citizens that have been given 1,000 florins for the expense of taking care of the homeless and for burying them?. This was common practice throughout Europe in the wake of The Black Death, as many people died alone and penniless.

The few surviving Christians, many of them full of questions, turn to the Clergy for spiritual answers to The Plague. Francesco Petrarch lamented as to why humankind deserved such awful punishment, and wondered if God even played a role in their lives. Still others like Gabriele de Mussis, a lawyer from Piacenza, viewed The Black Death as proof of God and his righteous judgment of a sinful humanity. Many clergymen were accused of with-holding their religious duties due to cowardice, other clergy were trying to prosper from the misfortune of others by charging payment for religious rights and rituals.

Upon reaching the ears of Bishop Ralph Shrewsbury of England, a decree was forged in pen and ink, and directed at the parishioners of his diocese. Stating that, no longer would man, woman, or child die without sacrament of penance, and cast scorn at parishes for blaming such behavior on fear of contagion, when it was greed that truly motivated them.

People began to look for way?s to prevent the future provocation of God?s extraordinary wrath on humanity. Many Christians cast blame on minorities such as Jews. One of these radical Christian sects, called ?flagellants? would scourge themselves with whips and flails in an attempt to show penance and atone for their sins. They began their journey from Austria and Hungary and traveled South to Germany and beyond. News of their journey usually preceded them, as people gathered in crowds to witness the strange rituals performed by these fanatical extremists. Witnessing this type of behavior invoked many responses among Christians.
Benedictine monk and Master scholar Jean de Fayt alleged that flagellants strive to kill Jews, thinking that it pleases God. Claiming that flagellants reject traditional Church teachings that urged the preservation of Jews as witnesses to the Ultimate triumph of Christianity at the Last Judgment. Heinrich of Herford, a Dominican friar viewed the flagellants as enemies of God, and perhaps heralding the reign of ?The Anti-Christ?. While Fritsche Closener, an ordained minister from Strasbourg chronicled the flagellants for two years and saw how they were welcomed by many Christians to stay in their homes, some even became participants in the rituals that were performed, and ultimately joined their pilgrimage.

In the wake of The Black Death, lay The Renaissance movement. Artistic ideals had been permanently changed and modern art?s joyful expression, skewed by the deaths macabre mask. The death of leading artists of the time left the door open for a different kind of artistic impression, a dedication to preserving the memory of The Plague. ?The Dance of Death? began as a mania that seized hundreds of people in Germany and Flemish towns as a way to ward off The Plague, periodically people would interrupt their dance and fall to the ground, allowing on-lookers to trample them as a way to cure the dancers ?oppression.? This led too many other artful forms of The Plagues Memorial. The Plague was first committed to verse by French poet Jean le Fever, inspired by ?The Dance of Death? he composed a poem of the same name that was adopted and refined by many writers of the time. Death was depicted in stained glass windows which adorned churches, like the stained glass panel in the Church of St. Andrews in Norwich, England. It depicts death as a chess player, but the Priest who is playing against Death is in ?check mate?.

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