Church History Period 5
The Three Years of Terror
The Black Death was a period of horror and confusion, truly a dark time for Europe. Just before this outbreak came to be, Europe’s population was beginning to outgrow the food supply and a severe economic crisis began to take place. Winters were extremely cold and the summers were dry. Due to this extreme weather, very low crops yielded and those that grew were dying. The time period of approximately 1339 to 1346 is now known as the famine before the plague. These seven bad years of weather and famine lead to the greatest plague of all times, greatly effecting the Church, families, and everyday citizens of Europe.
The Black Death occurred during 1347 to 1350. At this time the pope was Clement VI. He stayed in Avignon during the plague supervising sick care, burials, and the pastoral care of the dying. The plague started in China and made its way west across Asia to the Black Sea landing in Europe in 1347. The symptoms of this terrible outbreak was swelling of the lymph nodes (neck, armpits, legs, or groin) turning red then a dark purple or black, very high fever, delirium, vomiting, muscular pains, bleeding lungs, mental disorientation, and intense desire to sleep. This was a highly contagious disease and while many people took care of their loved ones while they were sick, little did they know they were now contaminated. Once you caught the disease your life expectancy was 2 to 5 days, a week at the most. This disease after 3 years nearly wiped away 25% - 50% of Europe’s population. So many people were dying all at once they were running out of burial sites and were forced to share graves. In the book, The Black Death 1346-1353: The Complete History, Ole J. Benedictow says, “All the citizens did little else except to carry dead bodies to be buried [...] At every church they dug deep pits down to the water-table; and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit. In the morning when a large number of bodies were found in the pit, they took some earth and shovelled it down on top of them; and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagne with layers of pasta and cheese.” (Ole J. Benedictow). No one ever really found a treatment for the disease just small remedies to decrease or relieve some of the symptoms such as headaches, lung pain, nausea, etc. One thing that I found interesting is the widely known children song “Ring Around the Rosy” is actually about the deadly epidemic; the Black Death. The opening words, "Ring around the Rosy," represent the skin lesion associated with the disease that appears as a bright red, or rosy, ulcerated spot surrounded by a ring. The next line, "Pocket full of Posies," has another meaning. Physicians used to carry scented herbs and flowers, called posies, in front of their noses in an attempt to ward off the plague. Traditional 17th century London physicians wore long robes and a long beaked mask with posies stuffed inside. The final verse, "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down," symbolizes death by the plague.
The Black Plague not only affected children and families, it also severely affected the church. Before the plague ever happened the church basically had absolute power in Europe. When the epidemic hit, the people put blame on and were distrusting of God and they thought it was a punishment for their sins. The Church began to plummet quickly, Many of the Churches best leaders were quitting and some even moved far away to avoid the problems they were facing. About sixty percent of the clergy abandoned their Christian duties and left. Before this tragedy, the Church had thousands of believers. Then all the death came and everyone strayed from the Church and blamed them for what was happening. The Church was known as the all knowing so when Priests