The Black Death
(1347-1352) was the Medieval black plague that ravaged Europe and killed a
third of its population. It was due to the plague which is caused by a
bacterium (Yersinia pestis)
transmitted to humans from infected rats by the oriental rat flea (MedicineNet,
2018). There are three main forms of plague in humans: bubonic plague (the
commonest form of plague in humans, characterized by fever, delirium, and the
formation of buboes), septicemic plague (an especially dangerous form of plague
in which the infecting organisms invade the bloodstream), and pneumonic plague (a
severe lung infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis). There are a few
factors in explaining plague in the Middle Ages: religion, medieval medicine,
and modern science, and I will be discussing religion in the Middle Ages as
well as medieval medicine.
An example of
how important religion was in the Middle Ages would be The Flagellants in
England (Avesbury, 1359). The Flagellants were men who punished themselves by
whipping each other to get rid of their sins. The Flagellants that came to
England from Flanders went barefoot in procession in front of other ordinary
people usually twice a day. All they wore was a linen cloth that reached from
the loins to the ankles, including a hood painted with a red cross at the front
and the back. They, too, carried their whips with them in their right hands.
The flagellants would whip themselves and others as they chanted and sang (some
in their own languages) and prayed. Three times during every procession they
would lie face down on the ground, forming the shape of a cross. The rest of the
men would walk over their backs and continuously whip them. They believed that
all this would bring them closer to God. That is because; they believed that by
suffering themselves, they would be brought closer to Jesus and his fate of his
crucifixion. People were so devoted to religion at that time that they
performed acts like this to show how faithful they were to the Trinity.
of how important religion was in the Middle Ages is how people not only
worshipped the Trinity but prayed to Virgin Mary and the Saints, too. At the
time, people usually prayed to more than one person; due to the fact that it
gave them more safety and defence. People also worshipped those persons because
it gave them something to take their mind off disease with. For people in the Middle
Ages, Virgin Mary was worshipped for hope and people also prayed to the Saints
for help and protection (since there were so many for various issues and
problems). There were many frescos of Saints, the Trinity and Virgin Mary on
church walls during those times. Such examples include the “Mother of Mary” fresco in Assisi and the “Saint Sebastian” fresco in Poggio Mirteto. The “Mother of Mary” fresco shows Virgin
Mary covering the Christian peasants that are suffering from plague with her
shawl robe. She is wearing a halo and is many times larger than the people
covered by her shawl robe. This fresco demonstrates how caring Virgin Mary was
to Christians that prayed to her. She played the motherly role in religious
people’s lives at that time, which is why most people relied on their prayers
for her to give them hope. The “Saint
Sebastian” fresco portrays St. Sebastian (the saint of plague) as very
courageous and brave. The reason is that St. Sebastian is shown to be tied to a
pole with arrows in him, bleeding. However, St. Sebastian doesn’t look like
he’s in pain at all as he has an expressionless face. This would encourage
people and take their minds off of their diseases because they believe that if
they pray to St. Sebastian he will help them get through the plague.
The final reason
of how important religion was is charity. People thought that if you were a
charitable person, then it was counted as a “key
to heaven”. The fact that, both, the giver and receiver were granted was
even better. The receiver, of course, got whatever the giver donated, whereas
the giver would’ve been given a ‘guarantee’ to go to heaven in the afterlife.
This meant that most people were very giving to each other and performed many
good deeds. This was very helpful, but that is because religion was so
important to the people in the Middle Ages that they were prepared to do almost
anything to be brought closer to God. This clearly shows us how important
religion was at the time.In conclusion, I
truly believe that religion is, not only an incredible but, the most important
factor in explaining medieval plague. This is due to the fact that people were
so dependent on religion that they would’ve suffered greatly, just to be
brought closer to the Trinity. In addition, people strongly believed that
religion would save them from (or at least take their minds off of) their
diseases, therefore, they prayed to all sorts of Saints as well as the Virgin
Mary and the Trinity. Religion helped people perform good charitable deeds too.
Furthermore, whilst many people suffered from the plague, religion was the one
thing that kept the agonized people hopeful and optimistic. This, therefore,
shows us how important and meaningful religion was to those who had the plague
in the Middle Ages.
1359, The Black Death, 1994.
Manchester: Manchester University Press.
MedicineNet. (2018). Definition
of Black Death. online Available at:
Accessed 7 Jan. 2018.