During the Middle Ages, trade flourished across Europe. Thousands of people would gather at various ports to wait for ships to return from foreign places carrying an assortment of exotic foods and goods. “In October 1347, trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina after a long journey through the Black Sea” (Roos, 41). Greeters and spectators, who were waiting anxiously for exotic goods, discovered something horrid instead. A majority of the sailors on board were deceased and the small remainder who had survived the trip were quickly dying as well. The ships brought back more than just goods and food items from China. They hosted flea-infested rats, which is the primary source of the bubonic plague. The bubonic plague, or ‘The Black Death’ forever altered the course of European history. The horrific plague encited a sequence of social, religious, and economic devastation, and ultimately killed over a third of Europe’s population.
The Black Death rapidly spread all over Europe and Asia, inciting great fear and hysteria. Victims of the Black Death suffered excruciating symptoms such as high fevers, an inability to digest food, and hallucinations due to the intense physical suffering. People inflicted with the disease developed black boils that secreted pus and blood, which is how the plague got its infamous name. “The epidemic ravaged the population for the next five years, killing more than 20 million people in Europe, almost one third of the continent’s population” (Plague, 2).
Yersinia Pestis is a bacterium found in fleas that can be transferred to host rats and can eventually be spread to humans. Antibiotics, immunizations, and other medical treatments weren’t available during the Middle Ages, so there was not an effective cure for the plague; although many believed herbs, tonics and spells were potent remedies. People did not have the resources to determine that fleas were the cause of the deadly plague, so they began to blame witches and spirits. Religious people believed it was punishment from god or the gods because of bad behavior. More scientific explanations for the cause of the plague included poison in wells, contaminated air, and a shift in the planets. “In any event, strange attempts to escape the wrath of the plague occurred causing an additional decline in the population and drastic changes in organized religion” (Carmichael, 3).
Many people began to skepticize the religious hierarchy because church officials were unable to discover a cure to this deadly plague. The church was viewed as an unearthly force that should be capable of solving all catastrophes, but when there were no signs of the plague letting up, people began to doubt the power of religion. Additionally, Jews and lepers were wrongly accused of inflicting the plague by ‘poisoning the air and the wells’. In turn, many Jews and lepers were viciously attacked for these ridiculous accusations and some massacres occurred. People that had skin...