The Black Death, 1348

It began with swellings in the groin or under the armpit the size of a small apple or an egg and were called tumours. In a short space of time these tumours spread all over the body. Then black or purple spots appeared, a certain sign of death.

No doctor's advice nor medicine could overcome or alleviate this disease. An enormous number of ignorant men and women set up as doctors. Very few of the sick recovered; most people died within three days.

The violence of this disease was such that the sick communicated it to the healthy near them via their clothes or anything else the sick had touched. Such fear and fanciful notions took possession of the living that almost all of them adopted the same cruel policy, which was entirely to avoid the sick. By so doing, each one thought he would secure his own safety.

Some thought that moderate living and the avoidance of all superfluity would preserve them from the epidemic. Others thought the sure cure for the plague was to drink and be merry, to go about singing and amusing themselves. And with this bestial behaviour, they avoided the sick as much as possible.

The authority of human and divine laws almost disappeared, for, like other men, the ministers and the executors of the laws were all dead or sick or shut up with their families, so that no duties were carried out. Every man was therefore able to do as he pleased.

People carried flowers or perfumes in the belief that it would comfort the brain; for the whole air was infected with the smell of dead bodies, of sick persons and medicines.

Others said that the only medicine against the plague-stricken was to leave. Men and women, caring about nothing but themselves, abandoned their own city, their own houses, and their relatives, as if God's wrath in punishing men's wickedness with this plague would not follow them, or as if nobody in the city would remain alive and that its last hour had come."

"One citizen avoided another. What is even worse and nearly incredible is that fathers and mothers refused to see and tend their children. Thus, a multitude of sick men and women were left without any care, except from the charity of friends (but these were few), or the greed of servants, though not many of these could be had even for high wages.

"The plight of the lower and middle classes was pitiful to behold. Most of them remained in their houses, either through poverty or in hopes of safety, and fell sick by the thousands. Since they received no care and attention, almost all of them died. Dead bodies filled every corner. Such was the multitude of corpses brought to the churches every hour that there was not enough consecrated ground to give them burial. Because the cemeteries were full, they dug huge trenches, where they buried the bodies by hundreds.

Source: The Black Death, 1348
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