The term “Black Death” finds its origins in 1823 whilst referring to a disease characterized by “the black blotches caused by subcutaneous hemorrhages that appeared on the skin of victims.” Otherwise known as the bubonic plague, historians believe the Black Death found its way into Europe from China through trade routes. However, it is not until 1348 that the first signs of the infection appear in England’s society and by 1350; England’s records show a rapid decline in the number of its population. Consequently, between 1348 and 1350, much of medieval Europe saw a division in the elites of its society in determining the causes of the disease. On one hand, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in England saw Black Death as the will of God if not the apocalypse. On the other, scientists and health practitioners understood the disease source is a highly contagious medical condition and not a sign of God’s displeasure with England. Nevertheless, due to the high regard of religion amongst the people, it is understandable that the plagued society laid blame on the Jews and non-Christians for the supposed divine retribution. This paper seeks to argue that the occurrence of the Black Death is explainable using scientific facts and is, therefore, not a punishment from God because of the presence of the non-Christian communities in Europe.
Once bitten, Black Death victims exhibited three clinical conditions, bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. When a flea bites a human, the Yersinia pestis bacteria found access into the bloodstream in which it could multiply at a rapid rate. Victims observed symptoms including “swellings in the armpits, groin or neck, depending on where the flea had bitten.” As such, “bubonic fever’ rises from the witnessed swellings as they also are dubbed the buboes. Studies attribute the pneumonic plague of Black Death to the inhalation of tiny saliva droplets containing bacteria from a coughing victim. Finally, the Septicaemic plague “occurred when the Yersinia pestis bacteria entered the bloodstream and attacked the immune system.” All these types of Black Death occurred in stages thus aiding in the spread of the outbreak at a fast rate. Finding a basis in the present day understandings of the plague, one can safely source the cause of the suffering by most of Europe’s population to a lack of understanding of the disease. For instance, the use of makeshift facial masks can prevent the spread of the bacteria in light of the pneumonic plague.
Finally, yet importantly, the inability of health practitioners existing during the outbreak to determine the cause of the outbreak attests to the ignorance of the people. For example, “The Black Death moved like a wave northwards through Europe at an average speed of about 4 km per day.” With such speed, it is not surprising that, the disease spread rapidly and by the end of the plague, the death toll lay at an estimated forty percent of Europe’s population. Consequently, the reaction of victims and their families as the affliction claimed more lives turned to paranoia and desperation. It is important to understand that, as the doctors were yet to understand the connection between dead rats in the streets and dead people on stretchers; poor lab equipments worsened the situation. A good example finds basis in the fact that, the Yersinia pestis bacteria is present in the victim's bloodstream. Thus, a proper isolation of the bacteria depends on the culture of blood samples belonging to victims and determining preventive and curative measure. As the people fail to discern the source of infection, finding a cure by experimenting on blood samples of victims is impossible.
On the other hand, because “God was thought to be responsible for inflicting diseases on people” people believe the non-Christians in the otherwise Christian countries were the cause of the disease. The massacre of Jews is the immediate outcome of the people believing God’s hand in the disease, and the continuing spread of the epidemic is another result. On that note, if non-Christians are the cause of the disease in the sense that, they stirred God’s anger, then it beats logic that the plague continued despite the massacre of Jewish families. In fact, unlike the scientific arguments this paper presents, there is no concrete proof to Black Death being a punishment from God. After all, by 1350 quarantine efforts led to the eradication of the plague on European soil.
Conclusively, the causes of Black Death are more scientific than they are religious. Evidently, it is logical to refute Europe’s notion of God’s displeasure with the non-Christians and the resulting massacres of the Jews. In addition, it is obvious that, with proper screening of trade steam ships and goods, Black Death’s causative bacteria in Europe will not be part of the continent’s history. Nevertheless, the peoples’ reactions are more about their religious beliefs than they are about their knowledge about the disease. It is, therefore, understandable that the plague’s effects in Europe were in such proportions.
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