Religious Beliefs and the Black Death

Sure the sight of a black bubble in a person’s skin could scare someone at least a little, or the terrible aches and pains brought about by a disease which no one in the region had heard about or had the slightest idea of a cure for could be a bit frightening. Just as it was during the 14th thru 16th centuries in Western Europe and just as it is today, death was and still is a big thing to fear. Thus, this epidemic that killed one third of Western Europe’s population got to be known as the Black Death, and people feared it. The population’s responses to the Black Death and its consequences were driven by fear due to religious superstition and a lack of knowledge about the epidemic itself. Even the rich and noble feared the plague just as much as the peasants had feared it. No matter of what social class a person was, if the Black Death had hit them, it had hit them. If the person was of a wealthy or noble family, he or she would not have a greater chance of survival than any other peasant who was also infected by the disease. According to Nicolas Versoris, the rich fled, so that the few porters and wage earners were left (doc. ). The concerns of the rich regarding the plague are best demonstrated by Giovan Filippo who declared that gold was for the expense to quarantine pest houses, gallows were for punishing the unhealthy sanitation and putting fear in others, and fire was for the burning of infected things (doc. 6). Even a puritans, Nehemian Wallington, who worked towards religious, moral and societal reforms, showed that he would be the last of anyone in his household to surrender to the plague, throwing the people he knew and his family at it first (doc. ). While most of the people believed it best to run from the plague because of their fear, some, such as Sir John Reresby, held an opposite point of view when he declared that when news of the plague came from Rome, many gentlemen were discouraged from travel but a few and myself (doc. 12). People who lived during the 1400’s and the 1600’s relied on God and religion much too extensively in everyday life and that led to people having superstitions linked to religion because of the plague. Surely, one of the first things people would blame the plague on was God since the belief was that God controlled everything, including disease. The concerns of those not deeply involved with the church still show a reliance on God and a blaming of God for the plague. This is best demonstrated by M. Bertrand, an ordinary physician, who said that the plague must be a particular chastisement exercised by an angry God over a sinful and offending people rather than a calamity proceeding from common and natural causes (doc. 16). People of religious office started to believe that they could save themselves from the plague by appealing to God or the church, as such is the example of a priest named Father Dragoni who appealed to the Health Magistracy of Florence stating that he had accompanied severity with compassion and charity, managed and fed the convalescents and servants of two pest houses, and paid guards and gravediggers with the alms given to him (doc. 9). A statue was rectified in Vienna, Austria by Emperor Leopold in gratitude for the end of the plague that had gripped Vienna. The paintings depicted of the statue show angels and holy figures all around the statue signifying that it was the angels and the holy forces that took down the plague, once again showing man’s reliance on God (doc. 15). While most holy figures and people of religious and political offices believed that God was the reason for the plague and the answer to stop it, others such as Lisabetta Centinni looked on the power of the Holy Spirit as a healing and saving power when she describes how her husband Ottavio ate a little piece of bread that had touched the body of St. Domenica and suddenly his fever broke (doc. 7). The lack of knowledge of most people that suffered from the plague resulted also in responses of fear out of not knowing what to do to prevent the plague and its consequences. The beliefs of the uneducated brought up many new aroused ideas of how to prevent the plague, and most ideas came quickly due to fear of catching the plague if not knowing how to stop it. Heinrich von Staden, a traveler to Russia, described ways that people tried to prevent the disease such as right when a plague visited a house, it was nailed up and burned, and if a person died within, he had to be buried there. All the roads and highways were guarded so a person could not pass from one place to another (doc. 5). A French physician, H de Rochas, describes how plague stricken patients hang around their necks toads, either dead or alive, whose venom should, within a few days, draw out the poison of the disease (doc. 10). Fear of the infection is just as present, and to avoid catching the sickness people even took extreme precautions as to not even dare to buy a wig, because the hair had been cut off from the heads of people dead to the plague (doc. 13). As the peasants and some other educated people came up with their ideas of preventing the plague, others, including nobilities, like Erasmus of Rotterdam, declared that the plague and sickness in England was due to the filth in the streets and the sputum and dogs’ urine clogging the rushes on the floors of the houses (doc. ). Of course it was not a perfected theory, but it differed from the others and brought up a more logical explanation. Religious superstition, lack of knowledge about the plague, and fear drove people’s responses toward the Black Death. The fear of the rich was no different from the fear of the poor because if a rich man and a poor man both caught the plague, the results would not differ. The religious superstitions that people possessed about the plague were all made up out of fear of the disease. The lack of knowledge people had about the plague led to the quick production of theories to stop the plague because people were afraid that the more they wait for a cure, the higher the chance is that they will catch the plague. People had to live with the constant fear that they might be next to catch the plague and thus, any theory about the plague and about how to avoid it that sounded logical at the time was thought of.

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Religious Beliefs and The Black Death. (2017, Sep 22). Retrieved June 14, 2021 , from

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