Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Dancing Plague

From The Everything Tudor Blog:
A 1642 Engraving by Hendrik Hondius portrays women affected by the plague.nExactly how many died is unknown. A chronicle made at the time stated that 15 people a day were dying in the punishing summer heat. The victims hardly ever paused to eat, drink or rest.Only in Late August did the epidemic slow down and stop leaving many bereaved and others fearful. This is not the only case of the dancing plague in history. The first recorded outbreak was in 1017 in a Saxon town. In the 14th century there was a contagion of thousands which began in the Rhineland and the dance spread rapidly. The victims screamed with pain as they danced unwillingly to their deaths. (Read more.)
I thought I recalled that the dancing mania was connected to the Andersen story of the Red Shoes and so researched it. To quote:
 For between 4 to 6 days, Frau Troffea danced day and night.  Despite suffering from complete exhaustion, she could not rest.  By the end of the week, 34 people had joined her and within a month about 400 men and women were tearing their way through Strasbourg in this non-stop frenzied dance.  Many of the exhausted dancers died, often due to heart attacks and strokes, their bodies continuing to make jerking movements even in their final death throes.

Physicians consulted by the city’s authorities ruled out astrological or supernatural causes and instead put the cause down to a natural disease which they called “hot blood”.  Oddly enough their remedy was to keep the dancers in perpetual motion as they believed that the citizens would only recover if they danced continuously.  To this end it was decided to open up two of the city’s guildhalls and the grain market and to erect a wooden stage, all to encourage and facilitate the dancers.  Musicians were even hired to accompany them.

In a last desperate attempt at a cure, the dancers were loaded onto three large wagons and taken to the shrine of St Vitus near Saverne. Priests were employed to say mass for each group.  After paying a donation of one pfenning, each of the dancers was given a gift of a cross and a pair of red shoes which had been sprinkled with holy oil.  Led around the altar in groups, the priest made the sign of the cross over the soles and tops of the shoes and sprinkled holy water on the afflicted men and women. Mysteriously as it had begun, the epidemic ended.  The fate of the first dancer, Frau Troffea is not known but she had initiated the last, most famous and largest outbreak of the dancing plague. (Read more.)

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