The Role Of Religion In Explaining Plague In The Middle Ages

The Black Death (1347-1352) was the Medieval black plague that ravaged Europe and killed a third of its population. It was due to the plague which is caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis) transmitted to humans from infected rats by the oriental rat flea. There are three main forms of plague in humans: bubonic plague (the commonest form of plague in humans, characterized by fever, delirium, and the formation of buboes), septicemic plague (an especially dangerous form of plague in which the infecting organisms invade the bloodstream), and pneumonic plague (a severe lung infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis). There are a few factors in explaining plague in the Middle Ages: religion, medieval medicine, and modern science. However, I think the most important factor in explaining medieval plague is religion.

An example of how important religion was in the Middle Ages would be The Flagellants in England. The Flagellants were men who punished themselves by whipping each other to get rid of their sins. The Flagellants that came to England from Flanders went barefoot in procession in front of other ordinary people usually twice a day. All they wore was a linen cloth that reached from the loins to the ankles, including a hood painted with a red cross at the front and the back. They, too, carried their whips with them in their right hands. The flagellants would whip themselves and others as they chanted and sang (some in their own languages) and prayed. Three times during every procession they would lie face down on the ground, forming the shape of a cross. The rest of the men would walk over their backs and continuously whip them. They believed that all this would bring them closer to God. That is because; they believed that by suffering themselves, they would be brought closer to Jesus and his fate of his crucifixion. People were so devoted to religion at that time that they performed acts like this to show how faithful they were to the Trinity.

Another example of how important religion was in the Middle Ages is how people not only worshipped the Trinity but prayed to Virgin Mary and the Saints, too. At the time, people usually prayed to more than one person; due to the fact that it gave them more safety and defence. People also worshipped those persons because it gave them something to take their mind off disease with. For people in the Middle Ages, Virgin Mary was worshipped for hope and people also prayed to the Saints for help and protection (since there were so many for various issues and problems). There were many frescos of Saints, the Trinity and Virgin Mary on church walls during those times. Such examples include the “Mother of Mary” fresco in Assisi and the “Saint Sebastian” fresco in Poggio Mirteto. The “Mother of Mary” fresco shows Virgin Mary covering the Christian peasants that are suffering from plague with her shawl robe. She is wearing a halo and is many times larger than the people covered by her shawl robe. This fresco demonstrates how caring Virgin Mary was to Christians that prayed to her. She played the motherly role in religious people’s lives at that time, which is why most people relied on their prayers for her to give them hope. The “Saint Sebastian” fresco portrays St. Sebastian (the saint of plague) as very courageous and brave. The reason is that St. Sebastian is shown to be tied to a pole with arrows in him, bleeding. However, St. Sebastian doesn’t look like he’s in pain at all as he has an expressionless face. This would encourage people and take their minds off of their diseases because they believe that if they pray to St. Sebastian he will help them get through the plague.

The final reason of how important religion was is charity. People thought that if you were a charitable person, then it was counted as a “key to heaven”. The fact that, both, the giver and receiver were granted was even better. The receiver, of course, got whatever the giver donated, whereas the giver would’ve been given a ‘guarantee’ to go to heaven in the afterlife. This meant that most people were very giving to each other and performed many good deeds. This was very helpful, but that is because religion was so important to the people in the Middle Ages that they were prepared to do almost anything to be brought closer to God. This clearly shows us how important religion was at the time.

In conclusion, I truly believe that religion was, not only an incredible but, the most important factor in explaining medieval plague. This is due to the fact that people were so dependent on religion that they would’ve suffered greatly, just to be brought closer to the Trinity. People strongly believed that religion would save them from (or at least take their minds off of) their diseases, therefore, they prayed to all sorts of Saints as well as the Virgin Mary and the Trinity. Religion helped people perform good charitable deeds too. In addition, whilst many people suffered from the plague, religion was the one thing that kept the agonized people hopeful and optimistic. This, therefore, shows us how important and meaningful religion was to those who had the plague in the Middle Ages.

10 October 2020
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