The black death in Paris summary




The black death in Paris summary


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The black death in Paris summary


In the late 1340s, and epidemic of bubonic plague, or the Black Death, broke out in Europe. In the next few years, the disease had a devastating effect on Europe, claiming the lives of at least one-third of the continent’s population. In the excerpt below from Volume 2 of Western Awakening: Sources in Medieval History, Jean de Venette, a Carmelite friar from Paris, discusses the arrival and impact of the plague in France. As you read the excerpt, note the causes of the disease that Jean de Venette mentions.
In A.D. 1348, the people of France and of almost the whole world were struckby a blow . . . For in addition to the famine . . .and to the wars . . .pestilence and its attendant tribulations appeared again in various parts of the world. In the month of August, 1348, after Vespers when the sun was beginning to set, a big and very bright star appeared above Paris, toward the west. It did not seem, as stars usually do, to be very high above our hemisphere but rather very near. As the sun set and night came on, this star did not seem to me or to many friars who were watching it to move from one place. At length, when night had come, this big star, to the amazement of all of us who were watching, broke into many different rays and, as it shed these rays over Paris toward the east, totally disappeared and was completely annihilated. Whether it was a comet or not, . . .I leave to the decision of astronomers. It is, however, possible that is was a presage [omen] of the amazing pestilence to come, elsewhere. . . .All this year and next, the mortality of men and women, of the young even more than of the old, in Paris and in the kingdom of France, and also, it is said, in the other parts of the world, was so great that it was almost impossible to bury the dead. People lay ill little more than two or three days and died suddenly, as it were in full health. He who was well one day was dead the next and being carried to his grave. Swellings appeared suddenly in the armpit or in the groin—in many cases both—and they were infallible signs of death. This sickness or pestilence was called an epidemic by the doctors. Nothing like the great numbers who died in the years 1348 and 1349 has been heard of or seen or read of in times past. This plague and disease came from . . .association and contagion, for if a well man visited the sick he only rarely evaded the risk of death. Wherefore in many towns timid priests withdrew, leaving the exercise of their ministry to such of the religious as were more daring. In many places not two out of twenty remained alive. So high was the mortality at the Hotel-Dieu in Paris that for a long time, more than five hundred dead were carried daily with great devotion in carts to the cemetery of the Holy Innocents in Paris for burial. A very great number of the saintly sisrers of the Hotel-Dieu who, not fearing to die, nursed the sick in all sweetness and humility. . . .
The plague, it is said, began among the unbelievers, came to Italy, and then crossing the Alps reached Avignon, where it attacked several cardinals and took from them their whole household. Then it spread, unforeseen, to France, through Gascony and Spain, little by little, from town to town, from village to village, from house to house, and finally from person to person. It even crossed over to Germany, though it was not so bad there as with us. . . .
Some said that this pestilence was caused by infection of the air and waters, since there was at this time no famine nor lack of food supplies, but on the contrary great abundance. As a result of this theory of infected water and air as the source of the plague the Jews were suddenly and violently charged with infecting wells and water and corrupting the air. The whole world rose up against them cruelly on this account. In Germany and other parts of the world where Jews lived, they were massacred and slaughtered by Christians, and many thousands were burned everywhere,  indiscriminately. . . .It is said that many bad Christians were found who in a like manner put poison into wells. But in truth, such poisonings, granted that they actually were perpetrated, could not have caused so great a plague nor have infected so many people. There were other causes; for an example, the will of God and the [body’s] corrupt humors and evil inherent in air and earth. . . .The plague lasted in France for the greater part of the years 1348 and 1349 and then ceased. Many country villages and many houses in good towns remained emptry and deserted. Many houses, including some splendid dwellings, very soon fell into ruins. . . .

Reading Review

  • What reason did Jean de Venette have for believing that the strange star was an omen?
  • What population was made a scapegoat for the bubonic plague?
  • The bubonic plague led to an upsurge in religious zeal. Why, in your opinion, was this so?


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The black death in Paris summary