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The Church, Leprosy and Plague in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

  • Richard Palmer (a1)
Extract

In this paper I would like to explore theories of disease and practices of healing in late medieval and early modern Europe, and to focus on two diseases, leprosy and plague. Much of the discussion will be based on Italian evidence since in this period, and especially in the sixteenth century, Italy was in the forefront of European medicine. Physicians were more numerous in Italy than in most European countries, and available not only in cities, but in small towns and rural communities. But disease and healing were not the exclusive concern of the medical profession. The church had not forgotten that healing had theological overtones. Equally there were the governments of the Italian states deeply committed to legislation for public health and to the control of epidemics.

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1 Cipolla, Carlo, Public health and the medical profession in the Renaissance (Cambridge 1976).

2 Compare the thousands of deaths from typhus and smallpox in Venice in 1570. known only from statistics in the Venetian civic death registers, with the far more minor epidemic of plague in 1555-6, which caused a public flight from the city and a flurry of publications. Cf.Palmer, [R.], [‘The control of plague in Venice and northern Italy 1348-1600’] (University of Kent Ph.D. thesis 1978) pp 98122, 336.

3 Mercier, [Charles], [Leper houses and mediaeval hospitals] (London 1915) p 19.

4 The archive of the hospital contains accounts for the construction of Verona‘s lazaretto and for the salaries of the staff of the health office, and books of general expenses in connexion with plague from 1448 onwards, Verona, Archivio di Stato, Ospedale di SS. Jacomo e Lazzaro alla Tomba, Registers 1453-1474, 1589-1609.

5 A typical firmly stated view on the contagiousness of leprosy (including instructions that lepers, unless wearing gloves, should touch nothing with which the public had contact) is found in the office at the seclusion of a leper used in the diocese of Salisbury, published in Richards, [Peter], [The medieval leper and his northern heirs] (Cambridge 1977) pp 123-4. Compare modern views of leprosy as only slightly contagious, e.g. Black’s medical dictionary (32 edition London 1979) p 525.

6 Breda, Achille, ‘Contributo alla storia dei lazzaretti (leprosari) medioevali in Europa’, Atti del R. Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, vol 68 (1909) part 2 pp 133194 , especially p 175.

7 Ibid p 165. On Italy, cf.Nasalli-Rocca, Emilio, ‘Gli ospedali italiani di S. Lazzaro dei lebbrosi’, ZRC, k Abt vol 27 (1938) pp 262298.

8 Mercier p 18.

9 Ibid pp 26-8.

10 Carabellese, F., La peste del 1348 e le condizioni della sanità pubblica in Toscana (Rocca S. Casciano l897) p 45.

11 On Amiens, Bourgeois, Albert, Lépreux et maladreríes du Pas-de-Calais (Arras 1972) p 54 . On Salisbury, see the office cited above, n5.

12 Brody, [Saul Nathaniel], [The disease of the soul: leprosy in medieval literature] (Ithaca and London 1974) p 80seq.

13 Richards p 69.

14 See the reproductions in D’Amato, Vincenzo, La lebbra nella storia, nella geografia e nell’arte (Rome 1923) pp 22-3.

15 Finucane, [Ronald C.], [Miracles and pilgrims: popular beliefs in medieval England] (London 1977) pp 76, 104.

16 Luisini, [Alvise], [Traaatus de confessione a die decubitus institnenda] (Venice 1563) pp 66-9.

17 This theme is dealt with at length in Brody, especially p 107 seq.

18 Ibid pp 96-7.

19 Ibid p 51.

20 Ibid pp 173-7.

21 1 Samuel 5-6.

22 Reproduced in Mollaret, H. and Brossolet, J., La peste: source méconnue de l’inspiration artistique (Antwerp 1965) fig.41. Cf. Benedetto Bonfigli’s paintings inspired by plague in Perugia in 1464 reproduced in Brossolet, Jacqueline, La Vierge au manteau protecteur contre tes flèches de pestilence’, Medicine de France vol 218 (1971) pp 1520.

23 Sudhoff, [Karl], ed [The earliest printed literature on syphilis] (Florence 1925) fig. 3.

24 Abraham, J. Johnson, ‘The early history of syphilisThe British Journal of Surgery, vol 32 (1944) pp 225237.

25 Brody p 103.

26 Ibid p l02.

27 Luisini p 41.

28 Mercurio, [Scipion], De gli errori [popolari d’Italia] (Venice 1603) fol 10v.

29 Ibid fol llr.

30 A copy of the bull, dated 8 March 1566, is in Rome, Archivio di Stato, Università di Roma, filza 58.

31 See, for instance, the statutes of the College of Physicians of Brescia of 1552, Statuta Collegii Medicorum Brixiae (Brescia 1876) p 15.

32 From the statutes of 1444 in Verona, Archivio di Stato, Istituto Esposti, register 59, fol 3r.

33 A copy of the bull, dated 30 March 1581, is in Rome, Archivio di Stato, Università di Roma, filza 58.

34 Mercurio, De gli errori fols 83v-94v; Luisini p 88.

35 De compescendis animi affectibus (Basle 1562).

36 Luisini pp 74-5.

37 Bernardino da Siena, [Le prediche volgari] (Milan 1936) p 951.

38 Finucane, passim.

39 Palmer pp 284-290.

40 Hippocrates, ‘The sacred disease’, translated by Jones, W. H. S., in the Loeb edition of the Works of Hippocrates vol 2 (London 1923) pp 127183, especially p 139.

41 Finucane p 64.

42 Palmer pp 298-9.

43 Brody pp 148-151.

44 Mannello, Giovanni, Le medicine pertinenti alle infermità delle donne (Venice 1563) fol 243.

45 Mercurio, [Scipion], La commare [o riccoglitrice] (Venice 1601) p 197.

46 Mercurio, De gli errori fols 3r-4r, 114v.

47 Bernardino da Siena p 958.

48 Mercurio, De gli errori fols 39r-v.

49 Thomas, [Keith], [Religion and the decline of magic] (London 1971) passim.

50 Mercurio, De gli errori fol 207r.

51 Ibid fol 219v.

52 Vicenza, Biblioteca Bertoliana, Gonzati MS 22.7.26 (=539) fols 1iv-12r.

53 Venice, Archivio di Stato, Sant’Uffizio, Processi, Busta 31.

54 Mercurio, La commare pp 116-7, 307.

55 Ginzburg, Carlo, I benandanli (Turin 1966) especially pp 45, 58, 116-144.

56 Venice, Archivio di Stato, Sant’Uffizio, Processi, Busta 30.

57 Finucane p 75.

58 Ibid p 81.

59 Ibid pp 80-81.

60 Thomas p 210.

61 [Gaspare] Torella, [‘Tractatus … ’], published in Sudhoff, especially pp 188-190.

62 Massa, Nicolò, II libro del malfrancese (Venice 1566) p 46.

63 Siccus, Ioannes Antonius, De optimo medico (Venice 1551) passim.

64 Torella p 189.

65 This and the following material on plague and the church’s response to it is based on Palmer passim.

66 Corsini, Andrea, La moria del 1464 in Toscana e l’istituzione dei primi lazzaretti in Firenze ed in Pisa (Florence 1911) p 28.

67 Guerrini, Paolo, La cronache bresciane inedite vol 1 (Brescia 1922) p 14.

68 Palmer, especially p 300.

69 Sanudo, Marin, Diarii (58 vols Venice 1879-1903) vol 1, col 836.

70 Thomas pp 85-6.

71 See the exhibition catalogue Venezia e la peste, 1348-1797 (Venice, Marsilio Editore for the Comune di Venezia, Assessorato alla Cultura e Belle Arti 1979), especially the section ‘Venezia, la peste e le sue immagini’, pp 209-341.

72 Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis (vol 1 never issued; vols 2-4 Milan 1890-1900), especially vol 2, cols 555-632.

73 Cipolla, Carlo, Faith, reason and the plague (Brighton 1979) especially pp 36.

74 Venice, Archivio di Stato, Sant’Uffizio, Processi, Busta 40.

75 La Cava, A. F., La pesie di San Carlo (Milan 1945) p 138 seq.

76 Missio, Michiel, Memorie miserabili et lacrimevoli di tutti i successi occorsi nell’anno 1598 e 1599 … nella città di Cividale del Friuli, ed Joppi, V (Udine 1891).

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Studies in Church History
  • ISSN: 0424-2084
  • EISSN: 2059-0644
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