A History lesson, yo!
So, first of all, the plague is still around today. Yep! Still around. Don’t believe me?
The plague never left, it just became less of a terrible, terrible, well plague because everyone either died or lived and thus became immune to said plague.
“The first documented plague, the “Justinian Plague,” began in 541 AD and continued for around 200 years, eventually killing over 100 million people. The most famous is the “Black Death” that occurred in the 14th Century, wiping out 60% of the European population. The last pandemic to occur began in China in the 1860s and killed around 10 million people.”
So, it’s STILL around today. But, don’t freak out on me just yet. it’s widely distributed in the tropics and subtropics and is commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. It also still occurs in the US; between 1900 and 2010, 999 confirmed cases were recorded here. It’s highly contagious and serious if medical help is not given, but commonly available antibiotics can effectively treat the disease.
Also, there are THREE different types of THE PLAGUE, did you know that? There is the infamous bubonic plague, the septicemic plague and the pneumonic plague.
What are the differences between these? It’s in their name.
Bubonic plague originates in the bubos, in the lymph nodes. So after the patient is infected, the disease (the plague) makes its way to your lymph nodes (at your neck, under your arms, at your groin) and just stays there and festers. When this happens, the lymph nodes swell and then bruise. Sometimes the bubos would burst, dispelling lymph fluid, blood and disease, other times these bubos would be lanced.
Note: This is from a Discovery History show and is a recreation:
The plague was most commonly spread when people came into contact with infected fluid (these burst bubos or coughed up fluid).
The bubonic plague, without treatment, will kill it’s patient within 4 days and has about a 30%-40% chance (In the medieval time frame, it is better in a modern setting, closer to a 40-60% survivability without treatment). Cleanliness is key when dealing with ANY illness.
The OTHER kinds of plague, pneumonic and septicemic, were FAR more deadly though. These two forms of plague (though this is much different now) had a 100% or nearly 100% mortality rate in the Middle Ages.
Pneumonic is plague that gets into your lungs, it is inhaled and then infects all the various parts of the lungs. This is still a very deadly form of plague today, even with treatment.
Septicemic is plague that crosses the blood barrier in your body and causes your very blood to be infected. It’s a slower, likely more painful, form of Sepsis. (Sepsis is what happens when your blood is infected and your organs start shutting down.) This is the rarest of the three forms of plague.
What more about the plague?
Ever heard of the nursery rhyme, Ring Around The Rosey?
It’s from the Middle Ages Plague!
“Ring around the Rosey”
-A dark ring of dead, necrotic flesh would form around open wounds, flea bites and the bubos.
“Pocket Full of Posey”
-The dead would be given flowers to try and mask the smell of dead, rotting bodies after they died. People would also carry wildflowers with them because the smell of dead and death would be so amazingly overwhelming when 75% of your town died.
“Ashes to Ashes”
-The bodies of those that died from the plague would be piled into mass graves and burned
“We All Fall Down”
Still with me?
Recognize this lovely fellow?
Admittedly, they did the best that they could under the circumstances. (Note: Most Muslim and Jewish doctors were banned or outlawed from Europe shortly after the plague started because they were thought to be causing it. The places that HAD these doctors, usually fared the best because these doctors were the best trained (ESPECIALLY Muslim doctors) and had the best knowledge of the time period. This began to change/even out during the end of the Renaissance/Reformation)
Now, back to the plague doctors.
The uniform that would be worn was literally head to toe covering. They would wear oiled cloth and leather clothing that covered up every space of skin that could possibly be exposed and they would divest themselves of this clothing as soon as they left the infected home. Again, cleanliness!
BUT, THE MASK! We must go over the mask. If you see, there is the long nose of the plague mask. This would be stuffed full of various mosses, herbs, flowers and generally smelly good stuff (dead people smell bad afterall). What did this ultimately DO though? It created a FILTER, much like modern doctor’s masks.
So even though the plague doctors went around and saw so many of the infected plague persons during the Middle Ages plague, very few of them actually became ill FROM one of their patients (there was certainly the chance that they could get ill from a flea bite themselves afterall, sadly Raid and flea collars were a few centuries away from being invented.)
What ELSE happened during the plague?
Well, funny you should ask that. Baptisms started being done for babies! No really, this was really when it started happening. Because the mortality rate was so incredibly high, people didn’t want to wait until they were on their death bed to be baptized and be cleansed of their sins at that point (death usually happened REALLY fast with the plague, and you couldn’t risk dying without having your baptism done. Remember! Protestantism hasn’t been invented yet, so everyone is Catholic. Except for those other major religions that I mentioned earlier.)
So people started baptizing babies AS SOON AS THEY WERE BORN because they didn’t want to risk a poor little baby dying from plague and thus being sent to hell, because you hadn’t been baptized.
This wasn’t the ONLY thing that caused the change from baptisms being done at the end of life to the beginning, but it was certainly a very, very strong factor.
If you see any medieval art that features skeletons, it’s likely plague art.
See the armies of skeletons at the right hand side?
Want more history mini-lectures like this? Let me know!