Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Plague Upon Your Town

The Black Death in Renaissance France. According to the meticulous research of Renaissance scholar Julianne Douglas:
Although the incidence of bubonic plague, the infamous "Black Death" of the fourteenth century, slowly decreased over the course of the Renaissance era, plague was still very much part of sixteenth century life. Outbreaks of plague occurred sporadically throughout Europe, following the movement of goods from port to port and of soldiers returning home from war. Edinburgh suffered a bout of plague in 1529, as did London in 1537-39 and 1547-48; Paris, where outbreaks were frequent, suffered a particularly virulent one around 1564. In 1570, 200,000 people lost their lives to plague in the vicinity of Moscow; Lyon lost 50,000 individuals in 1572; in 1576, 70,000 inhabitants of Venice succumbed. Plague during the sixteenth century was largely confined to cities and towns. Outbreaks usually occurred during the summer months, when rat fleas are most active. Death came quickly to victims: 80% of those infected died within five days.

In the course of my research on plague in the sixteenth century, I came across a small book entitled Deux ans de peste à Chalon-sur-Saone, 1578-79 [Two Years of Plague in Chalon-sur Saone, 1578-79], published in 1879 by Marcel Canat de Chizy, the town archivist. The book provides a fascinating account, culled from the town's historical record, of how the municipality dealt with a particular outbreak of the disease. Interesting to me was how the care of the sick became a community effort, motivated both by Christian charity and the more self-interested desire to limit the extent of the contagion.

(More HERE)

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