Europeans were susceptible to disease because many people lived in crowded surroundings in an era when the role of personal hygiene in the spread of disease was not understood. The Europeans often ate stale or diseased meat because mechanical refrigeration had not yet been invented. Fourteenth-century medicine in Europe was primitive and unable to remedy an illness that modern technology might have cured.
Bad medical advice also advanced the plague. People were advised not to bathe because open skin pores might let in the disease. The devastation of the plague led to advances in medicine. Cities began to build hospitals and enforce standards for sanitation.
Some Europeans believed the plague was a sign from God—groups known as flagellants tried to atone for the world’s sins by inflicting punishments upon themselves. The flagellants also persecuted Jews. Eccentric and unusual people were often charged with witchcraft and sorcery. Pope Clement VI condemned the flagellants and the harassment of Jews, but the hysteria reappeared whenever the plague reemerged.
The Great Plague transformed European society. Entire villages were sickened, forcing the remaining survivors to move to cities to find work. Labor shortages caused by the death toll led to increased wages. Feudal lands were often converted to pasture because grazing required less labor than farming. The need for a public response to the health crisis weakened feudalism and led to more modern forms of government in many places.
The Great Plague continued to affect cities from time to time for hundreds of years. The plague still exists and is common among rodents. We now have a cure for the disease, but occasionally people in isolated places still die from Bubonic Plague.
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Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on the Middle Ages.