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The Black Death And The Flagellants
by [?]

The middle of the fourteenth century was a period of extraordinary terror and disaster to Europe. Numerous portents, which sadly frightened the people, were followed by a pestilence which threatened to turn the continent into an unpeopled wilderness. For year after year there were signs in the sky, on the earth, in the air, all indicative, as men thought, of some terrible coming event. In 1337 a great comet appeared in the heavens, its far-extending tail sowing deep dread in the minds of the ignorant masses. During the three succeeding years the land was visited by enormous flying armies of locusts, which descended in myriads upon the fields, and left the shadow of famine in their track. In 1348 came an earthquake of such frightful violence that many men deemed the end of the world to be presaged. Its devastations were widely spread. Cyprus, Greece, and Italy were terribly visited, and it extended through the Alpine valleys as far as Basle. Mountains sank into the earth. In Carinthia thirty villages and the tower of Villach were ruined. The air grew thick and stifling. There were dense and frightful fogs. Wine fermented in the casks. Fiery meteors appeared in the skies. A gigantic pillar of flame was seen by hundreds descending upon the roof of the pope’s palace at Avignon. In 1356 came another earthquake, which destroyed almost the whole of Basle. What with famine, flood, fog, locust swarms, earthquakes, and the like, it is not surprising that many men deemed the cup of the world’s sins to be full, and the end of the kingdom of man to be at hand.

An event followed that seemed to confirm this belief. A pestilence broke out of such frightful virulence that it appeared indeed as if man was to be swept from the earth. Men died in hundreds, in thousands, in myriads, until in places there were scarcely enough living to bury the dead, and these so maddened with fright that dwellings, villages, towns, were deserted by all who were able to fly, the dying and dead being left their sole inhabitants. It was the pestilence called the “Black Death,” the most terrible visitation that Europe has ever known.

This deadly disease came from Asia. It is said to have originated in China, spreading over the great continent westwardly, and descending in all its destructive virulence upon Europe, which continent it swept as with the besom of destruction. The disease appears to have been a very malignant type of what is known as the plague, a form of pestilence which has several times returned, though never with such virulence as on that occasion. It began with great lassitude of the body, and rapid swellings of the glands of the groin and armpits, which soon became large boils. Then followed, as a fatal symptom, large black or deep-blue spots over the body, from which came the name of “Black Death.” Some of the victims became sleepy and stupid; others were incessantly restless. The tongue and throat grew black; the lungs exhaled a noisome odor; an insatiable thirst was produced. Death came in two or three days, sometimes on the very day of seizure. Medical aid was of no avail. Doctors and relatives fled in terror from what they deemed a fatally contagious disease, and the stricken were left to die alone. Villages and towns were in many places utterly deserted, no living things being left, for the disease was as fatal to dogs, cats, and swine as to men. There is reason to believe that this, and other less destructive visitations of plague, were due to the action of some of those bacterial organisms which are now known to have so much to do with infectious diseases. This particular pestilence-breeder seems to have flourished in filth, and the streets of the cities of Europe of that day formed a richly fertile soil for its growth. Men prayed to God for relief, instead of cleaning their highways and by-ways, and relief came not.