Little was known about the clergy during the Black Death. For a long time people believed that the Catholic Church had fled from its duty to serve the people, but that could not be further from the truth. In recent discovery it was found that greater than 50 percent of clergy were killed during the Black Death. This was not because the clergy were running away; rather, the clergy stayed and helped the people in villages, knowing the likelihood they would survive would be slim throughout this epidemic. It is my goal in this paper to describe what was occurring during the Black Death and how the Catholic Church and its clergy reacted to the epidemic.
The Black Death could most likely be considered the most severe epidemic in human history. The Black Death arrived in Europe in 1347 and was ravaging from 1347-1351. This plague killed entire families at a time and destroyed at least 1,000 villages. Greatly contributing to the Crisis of the Fourteenth Century, the Black Death had many effects beyond its immediate symptoms. Not only did the Black Death have a devastating toll on human life, but it also played a key role in shaping the Catholic Church’s life in the following years. The Black Death consisted mainly of one disease, the bubonic plague, but pneumonic plague was also present during the epidemic. The pneumonic plague was even more fatal, but it was not as predominant as the bubonic plague. Symptoms of the bubonic plague included high fever, aching limbs, and blood vomiting. Most characteristic of the disease were swollen lymph nodes, which grew until they finally burst. Death was almost guaranteed to follow soon after. The name "Black Death" not only referred to the sinister nature of the disease, but also to the black coloring of the victims' swollen glands.
It was during epidemics of Black Death that the towns of late medieval and early modern Europe first developed sophisticated mechanisms intended to control the spread of the diseases and to diminish their effects. The victims of the plagues were isolated and their contacts traced and incarcerated. There were restrictions on movement, bills of health, quarantine
regulations for travelers and shipping. Bedding and houses were fumigated.
People started to abandon cities and run off to the country side where it was believed to be a safer place to live, away from all other people. It is known that some family members would leave their own loved ones who had contracted the plague and venture to clean areas. Doctors would refuse treatment on the sick in hopes that they could somehow be spared for the epidemic. Yet there was one group of people who as a whole looked out for those who were sick: the clergy of the Catholic Church. Priests, nuns, and monks were typically the only glimmer of hope for the sick. With everyone else shunning the sick or abandoning them, those with the plague were happy to receive whatever help they could get.
The clergy’s function was to administer the...