Monday, August 23, 2021

The Black Death and the Plague Doctor mask

The Great Mortality or as it is better known to as the Black Death, was a time in 

the medieval history that saw the population of the world practically drop by half.

It was a turning point in history that left us with a new world rising from the ashes.

Join me as we travel back in time to Medieval Europe and take a look at a time and the headgear of the plague doctor

The year is 1347, and it's been almost 800 years since a plague ravages the Roman Empire  The bacterium Yersinia pestis ravaged the Mediterranean Basin, Europe, and the Near East, and Constantinople.  

Instead of focusing on the horrors of the Plague, I want to briefly discuss what good, if any came from these 300 years.

Before the Great Pestilence, Europe experienced a remarkable expansion period during the High Middle Ages (1050-1300 CE). This period was called the Medieval Climate Optimum.

However, by 1301 the weather was changing again.  As we enter 1347, many events took place to put the Great Pestilence on the map.

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The Black Death is the single most significant disease in Western civilization to date, an actual and literal plague. The word Plague derives from an ancient Greek medical term plêgê meaning "stroke"—it's a reference to the speed with which the disease brings down its victims—and this Plague was a real death-blow to medieval Europe. The Black Death, or simply "The Plague," came on its victims quickly and powerfully. It was such a debilitating disruption of facilities. It seemed to on-lookers in the day as if the person had been "struck" by some invisible force.

The "black" in Black Death more likely derives from the Latin word atra, meaning "black, dreadful." Death usually follows soon afterward, most often from septicemia (blood poisoning), due to massive internal hemorrhaging as the bloodstream grows congested with bacteria.

Before the outbreak in 1347, feudal Europe was divided socially by the three estates. While the system was made up of clergy (The First Estate), nobles (The Second Estate), and the peasants (The Third Estate).

It's probably safe to say that something on the order of a quarter to a third of the population of Europe died during the Great Pestilence, thus creating a tremendous upheaval of the three estate system

The Plague respected neither noble, cleric, or peasant.

With so much death, the peasants who were bound to the lord of the manor found that they could just go to the next manor and hire their labor out for more than a meager existence. Even then, the nobles tried to regulate the pay a lord could offer. And how much a worker could demand.  This really didn't work, and the feudal system started to crack.

Priests were not immune.  In many cases, but not all, the priest would or could do little for their flock.

Perhaps hasty last rites and then get the heck out of Plague-infested house.

Seeing that the church was of no real help, perhaps the survivors needed to rethink their relationship with the church.  

Scholars feel that this, like many other factors, was the slow brewing resentment that brought on the Protestant Reformation 200 years later.

The merchant class was proliferating.  Cash strapped nobles were quick to marry their children off to merchants who were more wealthy than the manor's lords. The merchants were eager to join the nobility.

Another positive result of the bubonic Plague was the development of medicine as a science in the West. Whereas in the late Middle Ages, Islamic doctors had, for centuries, been advocating sensible measures like general cleanliness and the value of studying anatomy. Western healers before 1347 were still burdened by the Medieval scorn of the body and ancient medical fallacies like the theory of "humors".

But when Plague wiped out nearly all the doctors in Europe, just as it had the clergy—physicians, like priests, attend to the dying and because of this was exposed at a higher rate to the more virulent pneumonic form of Plague—it precipitated a change in both personnel and precept.
Ironically, modern Western medicine owes much to the bacterium Yersinia pestis, one of its most horrifying failures.

It is here where we discuss the hazmat suit of the 14th century.  While the oldest drawings are from the 17th century, scholars have descriptions from much earlier of the suits that look like beaked birds.

Why the beak, you ask?

Well, the doctors of the time believed that epidemics were caused by miasma, or bad air, emanating from rotting organic matter. To counter the rotting stench, many times, people would carry flowers in their sleeves to smell them when the buboes' odor was overwhelming.

Doctors came up with long robes, gloves, and mask to keep from touching the diseased.
And the beak was there to hold the posies and other sweet-smelling items.

To filter out the miasma, so to say.

Well, as Halloween approaches, I thought it would be great to have a costume that represents this year.

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