Boccaccio, in his Decameron, says that there was neither a doctor nor a medicine to stop plague epidemics. Those years, though, did not lack remedies and treatments at all. The only problem was that they weren’t the right ones.
Theories on what caused plague
The most widely accepted medical theory on the cause of plague was the theory of the four temperaments, conceived by Galen, a doctor in the 2nd century AD, according to whom health was related to the balance between the four bodily humours. When this balance was destroyed, the consequence was plague.
In 1347, the Medical Faculty of Paris explained that the “air corruption” was due to an unfavourable conjunction of the planets and to eclipses. As well as this theory, Europe soon knew all of its remedies, too, i.e. observing what doctors said. And relying on God’s Goodness.
Religion and medieval remedies for the plague
Which meant an outburst of ex-votos to healing Saints and of various forms of worship of their images and relics, processions and legacies – for the rich, at least. You just need to think about two of the most beautiful churches in Venice – the Church of the Redentore and the Basilica della Salute – which resulted from a vow to God, so that he could save the city from plague.
Other solutions were pilgrimages – to the Holy Land, Santiago de Compostela or Rome, mainly – and prayers hanging from people’s necks as lucky charms.
Another terrifying plague epidemic – in 1656 – led to the creation of the famous Plague Doctor costume, carrying fragrant herbs in his long nose which, together with the garlic or rue the doctor chewed, held the plague’s miasmas at bay.
Three centuries before, though, doctors already recommended citizens to perfume their houses and clothes, to use many spices, to dampen themselves with vinegar and to chew or carry herbs on their person.
The most recommended herbs were saffron, citron peel, roses, violets and myrtle grains.
Discovering medieval religious medicine
In order to let you discover all of this and much more, Geografismi has designed the Plague and Soul Route, which will lead you through these places:
- the island of San Francesco, were you can discover how soul was – and still is – taken care of with prayer and spirituality, in an authentic oasis of peace;
- the barene, where you can find out something more about the unique flora of this environment and the medicinal herbs used during the Middle Ages, too;
- the grocery on San Servolo, still preserving ancient spices, herbs and knowledge.