Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday, July 27, 2012 exemplum, Matthew 13:18-23,St Pantaleon, Fourteen Holy Helpers, Black Plague

Friday, July 27, 2012
exemplum, Matthew 13:18-23,St Pantaleon, Fourteen Holy Helpers, Black Plague

Good Day Bloggers! 
Wishing everyone a Blessed Week! 

P.U.S.H. (Pray Until Something Happens). It has a remarkable way of producing solace, peace, patience and tranquility and of course resolution...God's always available 24/7..

We are all human. We all experience birth, life and death. We all have flaws but we also all have the gift knowledge and free will as well, make the most of it. Life on earth is a stepping to our eternal home in Heaven. Its your choice whether to rise towards eternal light or lost to eternal darkness. Material items, though needed for sustenance and survival on earth are of earthly value only. The only thing that passes from this earth to Heaven is our Soul, our's God's perpetual gift to us...Embrace it, treasure it, nurture it, protect it...

"Raise not a hand to another unless it is to offer in peace and goodwill." ~ Zarya Parx 2012

Today's Word:  exemplum  ex·em·plum  [ig-zem-pluhm]

Origin:  1885–90;  < Late Latin, Latin:  literally, a pattern, model, copy

noun, plural
1. an example or illustration.
2. an anecdote that illustrates or supports a moral point, as in a medieval sermon.

Today's Gospel Reading - Matthew 13: 18-23

Jesus said to his disciples: 'So pay attention to the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the Evil One comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the seed sown on the edge of the path. The seed sown on patches of rock is someone who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy. But such a person has no root deep down and does not last; should some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, at once he falls away. The seed sown in thorns is someone who hears the word, but the worry of the world and the lure of riches choke the word and so it produces nothing. And the seed sown in rich soil is someone who hears the word and understands it; this is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.'


Beginning with chapter 12 on the one side we see there is opposition between the religious heads of Israel, the Scribes and the Pharisees, on the other side, within the crowds who listen to Jesus and are admired because of his marvellous actions, gradually, little by little a group of disciples is being formed, still of uncertain features, but who follow Jesus with perseverance. To twelve of these disciples Jesus has given the gift of his authority and of his power; he has sent them as messengers of the Kingdom, giving them demanding and radical instructions (10, 5-39). Now at the moment when controversy breaks out with his opponents, Jesus recognizes his true kinship, not in the lines of the flesh (mother, brothers), but in those who follow him, listen to him and fulfil the will of the Father (12, 46-50). This last account offers us the possibility to imagine that the audience to whom Jesus addressed his words is two-fold: on the one side the disciples to whom he has given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom (13.11) and who have the possibility to understand them (13, 50) and on the other side the crowds who seem to be deprived of this deep understanding (13, 11.34-36). Before the large crowds which gather together to listen to Jesus is presented, above all, the parable of the sower. Jesus speaks about a seed that falls or not on the earth. Its growth depends on the place where it falls; it is possible that it be hindered so that it cannot bear fruit. This is what happens in the first three types of earth “along the road side” (the ground hardened by the passing of men and animals), “the rocky earth” (formed by rocks), «on the thorns” (it is the earth covered with thorns). Instead, the seed that falls on “good ground” bears excellent fruit even if at different levels. The reader is directed to be more attentive to the yield of the grain than to the gesture of the sower. Besides, Matthew focuses the attention of the listener on the good earth and the fruit that this earth is capable of producing in an exceptional manner.

The first part of the parable ends with an admonition: “Anyone who has ears should listen” (v. 9); it is an appeal to the liberty of the listener. The word of Jesus may remain a “parable” for a crowd incapable to understand; it can reveal “the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven” for those who allow themselves to be upset or affected by its force. It is the acceptance of the Word of Jesus that distinguishes the disciples from the indeterminate crowds; the faith of the first ones reveals the blindness of the others and obliges them to look “beyond” the parable.

• To listen and to understand. It is always Jesus who leads the disciples on the right path for the understanding of the parable. In the future through the disciples, it is the Church to be guided in the understanding of the Word of Jesus. In the explanation of the parable the pair of two verbs “to listen” and “to understand” appears in 13, 33: That which has been sown in the good ground is the one who listens to the Word and understands it...” It is in the understanding that the disciple is distinguished, the one who daily listens to the Word of Jesus, from the crowds which, instead, listen to it occasionally.

• Hindrances to understanding. Jesus recalls, above all, the negative response to his preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven given by his contemporaries. Such a negative response is bound to the diverse impediments among them. The earth on the edge of the road; is that transformed by passers by into a trodden road; it is totally negative: “Throw the seeds on the pavement of the street, everybody knows that it serves nothing: the necessary conditions for growth do not exist. And, then people go by, step over it, and ruin the seed. The seed should not be thrown just any place” (Carlos Mesters). Above all, there is the personal responsibility of the individual: to accept God’s Word in one’s own heart; on the contrary, if it falls on a “trodden” heart, which is obstinate because of its own convictions and indifferent, he sides with the evil one who completes that persisting attitude of closeness to the Word of God. Then the rocky earth: If the first impediment was constituted by an insensitive, indifferent heart, now the image of the seed that falls on the rocks, on stones, and among bushes indicates a heart immersed in a superficial and worldly life. Such life styles are energies that prevent the Word of God to bear fruit. They begin to listen, but immediately it is blocked, not only by tribulations and trials that are unavoidable, but also because of the involvement of the heart in concerns and riches. It is a life that is not profound but superficial, worldly, it is similar to instability. The good earth: is the heart that listens and understands the Word; this one bears fruit. Such fruit is the work of the Word in the heart that accepts it. It is a question of an active understanding, that allows itself to get involved by God’s action present in the Word of Jesus. The understanding of his Word will continue to be inaccessible if we neglect the encounter with Him and, therefore, we do not allow it to overflow in us.

Personal questions• Does listening lead to the deep understanding of God’s Word or does it remain only an intellectual exercise?
• Are you a heart that accepts, that is available, docile to attain to a full understanding of the Word?

Reference: Courtesy of Order of Carmelites,


Saint of the Day:  St. Pantaleon

Feast Day: July 27
Died: 1373
Patron Saint of : Physicians, midwives, livestock, invoked against headaches, consumption, locusts, witchcraft, accidents and loneliness, helper for crying children

St Pantaleon, Byzantine
 Saint Pantaleon (Greek: Παντελεήμων [Panteleimon], "all-compassionate"), counted in the West among the late-medieval Fourteen Holy Helpers and in the East as one of the Holy Unmercenary Healers, was a martyr of Nicomedia in Bithynia during the Diocletian persecution of 303 AD. Though there is evidence to suggest that a martyr named Pantaleon existed, the various stories told of his life and death are considered by some to be purely legendary.  According to the martyrologies, Pantaleon was the son of a rich pagan, Eustorgius of Nicomedia, and had been instructed in Christianity by his Christian mother, Saint Eubula; however, after her death he fell away from the Christian church, while he studied medicine with a renowned physician Euphrosinos; under the patronage of Euphrosinos he became physician to the Emperor Maximian or Galerius.  He was won back to Christianity by Saint Hermolaus (characterized as a bishop of the church at Nicomedia in the later literature), who convinced him that Christ was the better physician, signalling the significance of the exemplum of Pantaleon that faith is to be trusted over medical advice, marking the direction European medicine was to take until the 16th century.

St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote regarding this incident:
He studied medicine with such success, that the Emperor Maximian appointed him his physician. One day as our saint was discoursing with a holy priest named Hermolaus, the latter, after praising the study of medicine, concluded thus: "But, my friend, of what use are all thy acquirements in this art, since thou art ignorant of the science of salvation?

By miraculously healing a blind man by invoking the name of Jesus over him, Pantaleon converted his father, upon whose death he came into possession of a large fortune, but freed his slaves and, distributing his wealth among the poor, developed a great reputation in Nicomedia. Envious colleagues denounced him to the emperor during the Diocletian persecution. The emperor wished to save him and sought to persuade him to apostasy. Pantaleon, however, openly confessed his faith, and as proof that Christ is the true God, he healed a paralytic. Notwithstanding this, he was condemned to death by the emperor, who regarded the miracle as an exhibition of magic.

According to the later hagiography, Pantaleon's flesh was first burned with torches, whereupon Christ appeared to all in the form of Hermolaus to strengthen and heal Pantaleon. The torches were extinguished. Then a bath of molten lead was prepared; when the apparition of Christ stepped into the cauldron with him, the fire went out and the lead became cold. Pantaleon was now thrown into the sea, loaded with a great stone, which floated. He was thrown to wild beasts, but these fawned upon him and could not be forced away until he had blessed them. He was bound on the wheel, but the ropes snapped, and the wheel broke. An attempt was made to behead him, but the sword bent, and the executioners were converted to Christianity. Pantaleon implored heaven to forgive them, for which reason he also received the name of Panteleimon ("mercy for everyone" or "all-compassionate"). It was not until he himself desired it that it was possible to behead him, upon which there issued forth blood and a white liquid like milk.

St. Alphonsus wrote:
At Ravello, a city in the kingdom of Naples, there is a vial of his blood, which becomes blood every year [on his feastday], and may be seen in this state interspersed with the milk, as I, the author of this work, have seen it.

Veneration in the East

The Church of St. Panteleimon in Gorno Nerezi, Skopje.
The Eastern tradition concerning Pantaleon follows more or less the medieval Western hagiography, but lacks any mention of a visible apparition of Christ. It states instead that Hermolaus was still alive while Pantaleon's torture was underway, but was martyred himself only shortly before Pantaleon's beheading along with two companions, Hermippas and Thermocrates. The saint is canonically depicted as a beardless young man with a full head of curly hair.
Pantaleon's relics, venerated at Nicomedia, were transferred to Constantinople. Numerous churches, shrines, and monasteries have been named for him; in the West most often as St. Pantaleon and in the East as St. Panteleimon; to him is consecrated the St. Panteleimon Monastery at Mount Athos, and the 12th-century Church of St. Panteleimon in Gorno Nerezi, in the Republic of Macedonia. Armenians believe that the Gandzasar Monastery in Nagorno Karabakh contains relics of St. Pantaleon, who was venerated in eastern provinces of Armenia.

Veneration in Western Europe


Abby Church of St. Pantaleon,
Cologne, Germany. 966-980


At the Basilica of the Vierzehnheiligen near Staffelstein in Franconia, St. Pantaleon is venerated with his hands nailed to his head, reflecting another legend about his death. After the Black Death of the mid-14th century in Western Europe, as a patron saint of physicians and midwives, he came to be regarded as one of the fourteen guardian martyrs, the Fourteen Holy Helpers. Relics of the saint are to be found at Saint Denis at Paris; his head is venerated at Lyon. A Romanesque church was dedicated to him in Cologne in the 9th century at latest.


In Italy, Pantaleon gives favourable lottery numbers and winners in dreams. A phial containing some of his blood was long preserved at Ravello. On the feast day of the saint, the blood was said to become fluid and to bubble (compare Saint Januarius). Paolo Veronese's painting of Pantaleon can be found in the church of San Pantalon in Venice; it shows the saint healing a child. Another painting of Pantaleon by Fumiani is also in the same church. He was depicted in an 8th century fresco in Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome, and in a 10th century cycle of pictures in the crypt of San Crisogono in Rome. In Calabria, there is small town named Papanice, after Pantaleon. Each year on his feast day, a statue of the saint is carried through the town to give a blessing for all those who seek it.


In France, he was depicted in a window in Chartres Cathedral. In southern France there are six communes under the protective name of Saint-Pantaléon. Though there are individual churches consecrated to him elsewhere, there are no communes named for him in the north or northwest of France. The six are:
  • Saint-Pantaléon, in the Lot département, Midi-Pyrénées
  • Saint-Pantaléon, in the Vaucluse département, Provence - a wine-growing village
  • Saint-Pantaléon-de-Lapleau, in the Corrèze département, Limousin
  • Saint-Pantaléon-de-Larche, in the Corrèze département, at the border of Périgord and Quercy
  • Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes, in the Drôme département, Rhône-Alpes – a wine-growing village that is part of the Côtes du Rhône vinyard region
  • Saint-Pantaléon, in the Saône-et-Loire département, Bourgogne – administratively linked to Autun, bishopric see

References: Courtesy of the Catholic Online, and Courtesy of Wikipedia,

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Today's Snippet I:  Fourteen Holy Helpers

Martyrdom of St Pantaleon 1684 Fumiani
The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a group of saints venerated together in Roman Catholicism because their intercession is believed to be particularly effective, especially against various diseases. This group of Nothelfer ("helpers in need") originated in the 14th century at first in the Rhineland, largely as a result of the epidemic (probably of bubonic plague) that became known as the Black Death. Devotion to the fourteen "Auxiliary Saints" began in Rhineland, now part of Germany, in the time of the Black Death. As the other saints began to be invoked along with these three virgin martyrs, they were represented together in works of art. Popular veneration of these saints often began in a monastery that held their relics. All of the saints except Giles were accounted martyrs. Saint Christopher and Saint Giles were invoked against the plague itself. Saint Denis was prayed to for relief from headache, Saint Blaise for ills of the throat, Saint Elmo, for abdominal maladies, Saint Barbara for fever, and Saint Vitus against epilepsy. Saint Pantaleon was the patron of physicians, Saint Cyriacus invoked against temptation on the deathbed, and Saints Christopher, Barbara, and Catherine for protection against a sudden and unprovided-for death. Saint Giles was prayed to for a good confession, and Saint Eustace as healer of family troubles. Domestic animals were also attacked by the plague, and so Saints George, Elmo, Pantaleon, and Vitus were invoked for their protection. Saint Margaret of Antioch is the patron of safe childbirth. As the saints' joint cultus spread in the fifteenth century, Pope Nicholas V attached indulgences to devotion of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, though these no longer apply. While each had a separate feast day, the Fourteen Holy Helpers were in some places celebrated as a group on 8 August, but this celebration never became part of the General Roman Calendar for universal veneration. When that calendar was revised in 1969, the individual celebrations of St Barbara, St Catherine of Alexandria, St Christopher, and St Margaret of Antioch were dropped, but in 2004 Pope John Paul II reinstated the 25 November optional memorial of Catherine of Alexandria, whose voice was heard by Saint Joan of Arc. The individual celebrations of all fourteen are included in the General Roman Calendar as in 1954, the General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII and the General Roman Calendar of 1962. Comparable to the cult of the Fourteen Holy Helpers was that of the Four Holy Marshals, who were also venerated in the Rhineland as "Marshals of God." These were Quirinus of Neuss, Saint Anthony the Great, Pope Cornelius, and Saint Hubert.

The Auxiliary Saints

The fourteen saints are:
Name (Alternate) Feast day Patronage
Agathius (Acacius) 8 May Against headache
Barbara 4 December Against fever and sudden death
Blaise (Blase, Blasius) 3 February Against illness of the throat and for protection of domestic animals
Catherine of Alexandria 25 November Against sudden death
Christopher (Christophorus) 25 July Against bubonic plague and dangers while traveling
Cyriacus 8 August Against temptation on the death-bed
Denis (Dionysius) 9 October Against headache
Erasmus (Elmo) 2 June Against intestinal ailments
Eustace (Eustachius, Eustathius) 20 September Against family discord
George (Georgius) 23 April For the health of domestic animals
Giles (Aegidius) 1 September Against plague, for a good confession, and for cripples, beggars and blacksmiths
Margaret of Antioch 20 July During childbirth, and escape from devils
Pantaleon (Panteleimon) 27 July For physicians, and against cancer & tuberculosis
Vitus (Guy) 15 June Against epilepsy, lightning and for protection of domestic animals


The Basilica of the Vierzehnheiligen

The Fourteen Holy Helpers are honored in Bavaria as the "vierzehn Heiligen," and the Basilica of the Vierzehnheiligen is dedicated to these "Helper Saints." The Rococo pilgrimage church in the hamlet of Bad Staffelstein was designed by Balthasar Neumann and built between 1743 and 1772.

Devotion to these saints began in that region on 24 September 1445 when Hermann Leicht, the young shepherd of a nearby Franciscan monastery, saw a crying child in a field that belonged to the nearby Cistercian monastery of Langheim. As he bent down to pick up the child, it abruptly disappeared. A short time later, the child reappeared in the same spot. This time, two candles were burning next to it. In June 1446, Leicht saw the child a third time. This time, the child bore a red cross on its chest and was accompanied by thirteen other children. The child said: "We are the fourteen helpers and wish to erect a chapel here, where we can rest. If you will be our servant, we will be yours!" Shortly after, Leicht saw two burning candles descending to this spot. It is alleged that miraculous healings soon began, through the intervention of the fourteen saints.

The Cistercian brothers to whom the land belonged erected a chapel, which immediately attracted pilgrims. An altar was consecrated as early as 1448. Pilgrimages to the Vierzehnheiligen continue to the present day between May and October.

Snippet II: The Black Plague

The Black Death (Black Plague) was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Although there were several competing theories as to the etiology of the Black Death, it has been conclusively proven via analysis of ancient DNA from victims in northern and southern Europe that the pathogen responsible is the Yersinia pestis bacterium. Thought to have started in China or central Asia, it travelled along the Silk Road and reached the Crimea by 1346.

From there it was probably carried by Oriental rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships. It spread throughout the Mediterranean and Europe. The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60 percent of Europe's population and reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century. The aftermath of the plague created a series of religious, social and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history. It took 150 years for Europe's population to recover. The plague occasionally reoccurred in Europe until the 19th century.


There have been three major outbreaks of plague. The Plague of Justinian in the 6th and 7th centuries is the first known attack on record, and marks the first firmly recorded pattern of bubonic plague. From historical descriptions, as much as 40 percent of the population of Constantinople died from the plague. Modern estimates suggest half of Europe's population was wiped out before the plague disappeared in the 700s.  After 750, major epidemic diseases did not appear again in Europe until the Black Death of the 14th century. The Third Pandemic hit China in the 1890s and devastated India but was confined to limited outbreaks in the west.

The Black Death originated in or near China and spread by way of the Silk Road or by ship. It may have reduced world population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400.

The plague is thought to have returned at intervals with varying virulence and mortality until the 18th century. On its return in 1603, for example, the plague killed 38,000 Londoners. Other notable 17th-century outbreaks were the Italian Plague (1629–1631), the Great Plague of Seville (1647–1652), the Great Plague of London (1665–1666),[10] and the Great Plague of Vienna (1679). There is some controversy over the identity of the disease, but in its virulent form, after the Great Plague of Marseille in 1720–1722,[11] the Great Plague of 1738 (which hit Eastern Europe), and the Russian plague of 1770-1772, it seems to have gradually disappeared from Europe. By the early 19th century, the threat of plague had diminished, but it was quickly replaced by a new disease. The Asiatic cholera was the first of several cholera pandemics to sweep through Asia and Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The 14th century eruption of the Black Death had a drastic effect on Europe's population, irrevocably changing the social structure. It was, arguably, a serious blow to the Catholic Church, and resulted in widespread persecution of minorities such as Jews, foreigners, beggars, and lepers. The uncertainty of daily survival has been seen as creating a general mood of morbidity, influencing people to "live for the moment", as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron (1353).


Medieval people called the catastrophe of the 14th century either the "Great Pestilence"' or the "Great Plague". Writers contemporary to the plague referred to the event as the "Great Mortality". Swedish and Danish chronicles of the 16th century described the events as "black" for the first time, not to describe the late-stage sign of the disease, in which the sufferer's skin would blacken due to subepidermal hemorrhages and the extremities would darken with a form of gangrene, acral necrosis, but more likely to refer to black in the sense of glum or dreadful and to denote the terror and gloom of the events. The German physician and medical writer Justus Hecker suggested that a mistranslation of the Latin atra mors (terrible, or black, death) had occurred in Scandinavia when he described the catastrophe in 1832 in his publication "Der schwarze Tod im vierzehnten Jahrhundert". The work was translated into English the following year, and with the cholera epidemic happening at that time, "The Black Death in the 14th century" gained widespread attention and the terms Schwarzer Tod and Black Death became more widely used in the German and English speaking worlds, respectively.


Populations in crisis


 Spread of the black death in Europe (1346–53)

In Europe, the Medieval Warm Period ended some time towards the end of the 13th century, bringing the "Little Ice Age" and harsher winters with reduced harvests. In northern Europe, new technological innovations such as the heavy plough and the three-field system were not as effective in clearing new fields for harvest as they were in the Mediterranean because the north had poor clay soil, and the potato, otherwise ideal for Northern Europe, was an American crop unknown in Europe at the time. Food shortages and rapidly inflating prices were a fact of life for as much as a century before the plague. Wheat, oats, hay and consequently livestock were all in short supply. Their scarcity resulted in malnutrition, which increases susceptibility to infections due to weakened immunity. Consistently high fertility rates, at five or more children per woman throughout Europe, resulted in high population growth rates and contributed to food shortages. In the autumn of 1314, heavy rains began to fall, followed by several years of cold and wet winters. The already weak harvests of the north suffered and the seven-year famine ensued. In the years 1315 to 1317 a catastrophic famine, known as the Great Famine, struck much of northwest Europe. It was arguably the worst in European history, reducing the population by perhaps more than 10 percent.

Infection and migration

The plague disease, generally thought to be caused by Yersinia pestis, is enzootic (commonly present) in populations of fleas carried by ground rodents, including marmots, in various areas including Central Asia, Kurdistan, Western Asia, Northern India and Uganda. Nestorian graves dating to 1338–9 near Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgizstan have inscriptions referring to plague and are thought by many epidemiologists to mark the outbreak of the epidemic, from which they could easily have spread to China and India. In October 2010, medical geneticists confirmed that the plague originated in Yunnan, province in southwest China. In China, the 13th century Mongol conquest caused a decline in farming and trading. However, economic recovery had been observed in the beginning of the 14th century. In the 1330s a high frequency of natural disasters and plagues led to widespread famine starting in 1331, with a deadly plague arriving soon after. The 14th-century plague killed an estimated 25 million Chinese and other Asians during the 15 years before it entered Constantinople in 1347. However, according to George Sussman, the first obvious medical description of plague in China dates to 1644. The disease may have travelled along the Silk Road with Mongol armies and traders or it could have come via ship. By the end of 1346 reports of plague had reached the seaports of Europe: "India was depopulated, Tartary, Mesopotamia, Syria, Armenia were covered with dead bodies".

Plague was reportedly first introduced to Europe at the trading city of Caffa in the Crimea in 1347. After a protracted siege, during which the Mongol army under Jani Beg was suffering the disease, they catapulted the infected corpses over the city walls to infect the inhabitants. The Genoese traders fled, taking the plague by ship into Sicily and the south of Europe, whence it spread north. Whether or not this hypothesis is accurate, it is clear that several existing conditions such as war, famine, and weather contributed to the severity of the Black Death.

European outbreak

There appear to have been several introductions into Europe. It reached Sicily in October 1347 carried by twelve Genoese galleys, where it rapidly spread all over the island. Galleys from Caffa reached Genoa and Venice in January 1348 but it was the outbreak in Pisa a few weeks later that was the entry point to northern Italy. Towards the end of January one of the galleys expelled from Italy arrived in Marseille.  From Italy the disease spread northwest across Europe, striking France, Spain, Portugal and England by June 1348, then turned and spread east through Germany and Scandinavia from 1348 to 1350. It was introduced in Norway in 1349 when a ship landed at Askøy, then spread to Bjørgvin (modern Bergen) but never reached Iceland. Finally it spread to northwestern Russia in 1351. The plague spared some parts of Europe, including the Kingdom of Poland and isolated parts of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Middle Eastern outbreak

The plague struck various countries in the Middle East during the pandemic, leading to serious depopulation and permanent change in both economic and social structures. As it spread to western Europe, the disease also entered the region from southern Russia. By autumn 1347, the plague reached Alexandria in Egypt, probably through the port's trade with Constantinople, and ports on the Black Sea. During 1347, the disease travelled eastward to Gaza, and north along the eastern coast to cities in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, including Ashkelon, Acre, Jerusalem, Sidon, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. In 1348–49, the disease reached Antioch. The city's residents fled to the north, most of them dying during the journey, but the infection had been spread to the people of Asia Minor.

Mecca became infected in 1349. During the same year, records show the city of Mawsil (Mosul) suffered a massive epidemic, and the city of Baghdad experienced a second round of the disease. In 1351, Yemen experienced an outbreak of the plague. This coincided with the return of King Mujahid of Yemen from imprisonment in Cairo. His party may have brought the disease with them from Egypt.

Medical knowledge had stagnated during the Middle Ages. The most authoritative account at the time came from the medical faculty in Paris in a report to the king of France that blamed the heavens, in the form of a conjunction of three planets in 1345 that caused a "great pestilence in the air". This report became the first and most widely circulated of a series of "plague tracts" that sought to give advice to sufferers. That the plague was caused by bad air became the most widely accepted theory. The word plague had no special significance at this time, and only the recurrence of outbreaks during the Middle Ages gave it the name that has become the medical term.

The importance of hygiene was recognised only in the nineteenth century; until then it was common that the streets were filthy, with live animals of all sorts around and human parasites abounding. A transmissible disease will spread easily in such conditions. One development as a result of the Black Death was the establishment of the idea of quarantine in Dubrovnik in 1377 after continuing outbreaks.

The dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to Yersinia pestis, also responsible for an epidemic that began in southern China in 1865, eventually spreading to India. The investigation of the pathogen that caused the 19th-century plague was begun by teams of scientists who visited Hong Kong in 1894, among whom was Alexandre Yersin, after whom the pathogen was named Yersinia pestis. The mechanism by which Y. pestis was usually transmitted was established in 1898 by Paul-Louis Simond and was found to involve the bites of fleas whose midguts had become obstructed by replicating Y. pestis several days after feeding on an infected host. This blockage results in starvation and aggressive feeding behaviour by the fleas, which repeatedly attempt to clear their blockage by regurgitation, resulting in thousands of plague bacteria being flushed into the feeding site, infecting the host. The bubonic plague mechanism was also dependent on two populations of rodents: one resistant to the disease, which act as hosts, keeping the disease endemic, and a second that lack resistance. When the second population dies, the fleas move on to other hosts, including people, thus creating a human epidemic.

The historian Francis Aidan Gasquet, who had written about the 'Great Pestilence' in 189 and suggested that "it would appear to be some form of the ordinary Eastern or bubonic plague" was able to adopt the epidemiology of the bubonic plague for the Black Death for the second edition in 1908, implicating rats and fleas in the process, and his interpretation was widely accepted for other ancient and medieval epidemics, such as the Justinian plague that was prevalent in the Eastern Roman Empire from 541 to 700 AD.

More recently other forms of plague have been implicated. The modern bubonic plague has a mortality rate of 30 to 75 percent and symptoms including fever of 38–41 °C (101–105 °F), headaches, painful, aching joints, nausea and vomiting, and a general feeling of malaise. If untreated, of those that contract the bubonic plague, 80 percent die within eight days. Pneumonic plague has mortality rate of 90 to 95 percent. Symptoms include fever, cough, and blood-tinged sputum. As the disease progresses, sputum becomes free flowing and bright red. Septicemic plague is the least common of the three forms, with a mortality rate close to 100 percent. Symptoms are high fevers and purple skin patches (purpura due to disseminated intravascular coagulation). In cases of pneumonic and particularly septicemic plague the progress of the disease is so rapid that there would often be no time for the development of the enlarged lymph nodes that were noted as buboes.

"Many modern scholars accept that the lethality of the Black Death stemmed from the combination of bubonic and pneumonic plague with other diseases and warn that every historical mention of 'pest' was not necessarily bubonic plague...In her study of 15th Century outbreaks, Ann Carmichael states that worms, the pox, fevers and dysentery clearly accompanied bubonic plague."

Alternative explanations

This interpretation was first significantly challenged by the work of British bacteriologist J. F. D. Shrewsbury in 1970, who noted that the reported rates of mortality in rural areas during the 14th century pandemic were inconsistent with the modern bubonic plague, leading him to conclude that contemporary accounts were exaggerations. In 1984 zoologist Graham Twigg produced the first major work to challenge the bubonic plague theory directly, and his doubts about the identity of the Black Death have been taken up by a number of authors, including Samuel K. Cohn, Jr. (2002), David Herlihy (1997), and Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan (2001).

It is recognised that an epidemiological account of the plague is as important as an identification of symptoms, but researchers are hampered by the lack of reliable statistics from this period. Most work has been done on the spread of the plague in England, and even estimates of overall population at the start vary by over 100% as no census was undertaken between the Domesday Book and 1377. Estimates of plague victims are usually extrapolated from figures for the clergy.

In addition to arguing that the rat population was insufficient to account for a bubonic plague pandemic, sceptics of the bubonic plague theory point out that the symptoms of the Black Death are not unique (and arguably in some accounts may differ from bubonic plague); that transference via fleas in goods was likely to be of marginal significance and that the DNA results may be flawed and might not have been repeated elsewhere, despite extensive samples from other mass graves. Other arguments include the lack of accounts of the death of rats before outbreaks of plague between the 14th and 17th centuries; temperatures that are too cold in northern Europe for the survival of fleas; that, despite primitive transport systems, the spread of the Black Death was much faster than that of modern bubonic plague; that mortality rates of the Black Death appear to be very high; that, while modern bubonic plague is largely endemic as a rural disease, the Black Death indiscriminately struck urban and rural areas; and that the pattern of the Black Death, with major outbreaks in the same areas separated by five to fifteen years, differs from modern bubonic plague, which often becomes endemic for decades, flaring up on an annual basis.

Walløe complains that all of these authors "take it for granted that Simond's infection model, black rat → rat flea → human, which was developed to explain the spread of plague in India, is the only way an epidemic of Yersinia pestis infection could spread", whilst pointing to several other possibilities.

A variety of alternatives to the Y. pestis have been put forward. Twigg suggested that the cause was a form of anthrax and N. F. Cantor (2001) thought it may have been a combination of anthrax and other pandemics. Scott and Duncan have argued that the pandemic was a form of infectious disease that characterise as hemorrhagic plague similar to Ebola. Archaeologist Barney Sloane has argued that there are insufficient evidence of the extinction of large number of rats in the archaeological record of the medieval waterfront in London and that the plague spread too quickly to support the thesis that the Y. pestis was spread from fleas on rats and argues that transmission must have been person to person. However, no single alternative solution has achieved widespread acceptance. Many scholars arguing for the Y. pestis as the major agent of the pandemic, suggest that its extent and symptoms can be explained by a combination of bubonic plague with other diseases, including typhus, smallpox and respiratory infections. In addition to the bubonic infection, others point to additional septicemic (a type of "blood poisoning") and pneumonic (an airborne plague that attacks the lungs before the rest of the body) forms of the plague, which lengthen the duration of outbreaks throughout the seasons and help account for its high mortality rate and additional recorded symptoms.

DNA evidence

In October 2010 the open-access scientific journal PLoS Pathogens published a paper by a multinational team who undertook a new investigation into the role of Yersinia pestis in the Black Death following the disputed identification by Drancourt & Raoult in 1998. Their surveys tested for DNA and protein signatures specific for Y. pestis in human skeletons from widely distributed mass graves in northern, central and southern Europe that were associated archaeologically with the Black Death and subsequent resurgences. The authors concluded that this new research, together with prior analyses from the south of France and Germany
"...ends the debate about the etiology of the Black Death, and unambiguously demonstrates that Y. pestis was the causative agent of the epidemic plague that devastated Europe during the Middle Ages."
The study also found that there were two previously unknown but related clades (genetic branches) of the Y. pestis genome associated with medieval mass graves. These clades (which are thought to be extinct) were found to be ancestral to modern isolates of the modern Y. pestis strains Y. p. orientalis and Y. p. medievalis, suggesting the plague may have entered Europe in two waves. Surveys of plague pit remains in France and England indicate the first variant entered Europe through the port of Marseille around November 1347 and spread through France over the next two years, eventually reaching England in the spring of 1349, where it spread through the country in three epidemics. Surveys of plague pit remains from the Dutch town of Bergen op Zoom showed the Y. pestis genotype responsible for the pandemic that spread through the Low Countries from 1350 differed from that found in Britain and France, implying Bergen op Zoom (and possibly other parts of the southern Netherlands) was not directly infected from England or France in 1349 and suggesting a second wave of plague, different from those in Britain and France, may have been carried to the Low Countries from Norway, the Hanseatic cities or another site.

The results of the Haensch study have since been confirmed and amended. Based on genetic evidence derived from Black Death victims in the East Smithfield burial site in England, Schuenemann et al. in 2011 further conclude "that the Black Death in medieval Europe was caused by a variant of Y. pestis that may no longer exist."[47] A study published in Nature in October 2011 sequenced the genome of Y. pestis from plague victims and indicated that the strain that caused the Black Death is ancestral to most modern strains of the disease.


Death toll

Citizens of Tournai bury plague victims
Figures for the death toll vary widely by area and from source to source as new research and discoveries come to light. It killed an estimated 75 million–200 million people in the 14th century. According to medieval historian Philip Daileader in 2007:
The trend of recent research is pointing to a figure more like 45 percent to 50 percent of the European population dying during a four-year period. There is a fair amount of geographic variation. In Mediterranean Europe, areas such as Italy, the south of France and Spain, where plague ran for about four years consecutively, it was probably closer to 75 percent to 80 percent of the population. In Germany and England ... it was probably closer to 20 percent.

The most widely accepted estimate for the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran and Syria, during this time, is for a death rate of about a third. The Black Death killed about 40% of Egypt's population. Half of Paris's population of 100,000 people died. In Italy, Florence's population was reduced from 110,000 or 120,000 inhabitants in 1338 to 50,000 in 1351. At least 60 percent of Hamburg's and Bremen's population perished. Before 1350, there were about 170,000 settlements in Germany, and this was reduced by nearly 40,000 by 1450. In 1348, the plague spread so rapidly that before any physicians or government authorities had time to reflect upon its origins, about a third of the European population had already perished. In crowded cities, it was not uncommon for as much as 50 percent of the population to die. Europeans living in isolated areas suffered less, whereas monks and priests were especially hard hit since they cared for the Black Death's victims.


Because 14th century healers were at a loss to explain the cause, Europeans turned to astrological forces, earthquakes, and the poisoning of wells by Jews as possible reasons for the plague's emergence. The governments of Europe had no apparent response to the crisis because no one knew its cause or how it spread. The mechanism of infection and transmission of diseases was little understood in the 14th century; many people believed only God's anger could produce such horrific displays. There were many attacks against Jewish communities. In August 1349, the Jewish communities of Mainz and Cologne were exterminated. In February of that same year, the citizens of Strasbourg murdered 2,000 Jews. By 1351, 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities were destroyed. The Brotherhood of the Flagellants, a movement said to number up to 800,000, reached its peak of popularity.


The Great Plague of London, in 1665, killed up to 100,000 people
An epidemic of plague dies out after a few months because it has no host in which the bacteria can survive. However, that does not mean the infection is not surviving somewhere, in a rodent or flea or warm place, to act as a reservoir, so sooner or later it breaks out again. The plague repeatedly returned to haunt Europe and the Mediterranean throughout the 14th to 17th centuries.According to Biraben, plague was present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671. The Second Pandemic was particularly widespread in the following years: 1360–1363; 1374; 1400; 1438–1439; 1456–1457; 1464–1466; 1481–1485; 1500–1503; 1518–1531; 1544–1548; 1563–1566; 1573–1588; 1596–1599; 1602–1611; 1623–1640; 1644–1654; and 1664–1667. According to Geoffrey Parker, "France alone lost almost a million people to plague in the epidemic of 1628–31."  In England, in the absence of census figures, historians propose a range of preincident population figures from as high as 7 million to as low as 4 million in 1300, and a postincident population figure as low as 2 million. By the end of 1350, the Black Death subsided, but it never really died out in England. Over the next few hundred years, further outbreaks occurred in 1361–62, 1369, 1379–83, 1389–93, and throughout the first half of the 15th century. An outbreak in 1471 took as much as 10–15% of the population, while the death rate of the plague of 1479–80 could have been as high as 20%. The most general outbreaks in Tudor and Stuart England seem to have begun in 1498, 1535, 1543, 1563, 1589, 1603, 1625, and 1636, and ended with the Great Plague of London in 1665.

Plague Riot in Moscow in 1771: During the course of the city's plague, between 50,000 and 100,000 died (1/6 to 1/3 of its population).
In 1466, perhaps 40,000 people died of plague in Paris. During the 16th and 17th centuries, plague visited Paris for almost one year out of three. The Black Death ravaged Europe for three years before it continued on into Russia, where the disease hit somewhere once every five or six years from 1350 to 1490. Plague epidemics ravaged London in 1563, 1593, 1603, 1625, 1636, and 1665, reducing its population by 10 to 30% during those years. Over 10% of Amsterdam's population died in 1623–1625, and again in 1635–1636, 1655, and 1664. There were 22 outbreaks of plague in Venice between 1361 and 1528. The plague of 1576–1577 killed 50,000 in Venice, almost a third of the population. Late outbreaks in central Europe included the Italian Plague of 1629–1631, which is associated with troop movements during the Thirty Years' War, and the Great Plague of Vienna in 1679. Over 60% of Norway's population died from 1348 to 1350. The last plague outbreak ravaged Oslo in 1654.  In the first half of the 17th century, a plague claimed some 1.7 million victims in Italy, or about 14% of the population. In 1656, the plague killed about half of Naples' 300,000 inhabitants. More than 1.25 million deaths resulted from the extreme incidence of plague in 17th-century Spain. The plague of 1649 probably reduced the population of Seville by half. In 1709–1713, a plague epidemic that followed the Great Northern War (1700–1721, Sweden v. Russia and allies) killed about 100,000 in Sweden, and 300,000 in Prussia. The plague killed two-thirds of the inhabitants of Helsinki, and claimed a third of Stockholm's population. Europe's last major epidemic occurred in 1720 in Marseilles.

Worldwide distribution of plague-infected animals 1998
The Black Death ravaged much of the Islamic world. Plague was present in at least one location in the Islamic world virtually every year between 1500 and 1850. Plague repeatedly struck the cities of North Africa. Algiers lost 30,000–50,000 to it in 1620–21, and again in 1654–57, 1665, 1691, and 1740–42. Plague remained a major event in Ottoman society until the second quarter of the 19th century. Between 1701 and 1750, 37 larger and smaller epidemics were recorded in Constantinople, and 31 between 1751 and 1800. Baghdad has suffered severely from visitations of the plague, and sometimes two-thirds of its population has been wiped out.

Third plague pandemic

The Third plague pandemic (1855–1959) started in China in the middle of the 19th century, spreading to all inhabited continents and killing 10 million people in India alone. Twelve plague outbreaks in Australia between 1900 and 1925 resulted in well over 1000 deaths, mainly in Sydney. This led to the establishment of a Public Health Department there which undertook some leading-edge research on plague transmission from rat fleas to humans via the bacillus Yersinia pestis.

The first North American plague epidemic was the San Francisco plague of 1900–1904, followed by another outbreak in 1907–1908. From 1944 through 1993, 362 cases of human plague were reported in the United States; approximately 90% occurred in four western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico. Plague was confirmed in the United States from 9 western states during 1995. Currently, between 10 and 15 people in the United States are estimated to catch the disease each year, typically in western states.

The plague bacterium could develop drug-resistance and again become a major health threat. The ability to resist many of the antibiotics used against it has been found so far in only a single case of the disease in Madagascar, in 1995.

References:  Courtesy of Wikipedia,