The Black Plague in Florence 1348
Western Civilization & the World 1
I am a lawyer living in Florence. The year is 1348. I am writing this
chronicle for my friend, Marchione di Coppo Stefani, as a strange and mysterious
plague of unprecedented proportion leaves many of our citizens dead within a
matter of days. I want to leave this as a legacy for those who may survive, as
I have no assurance that this dreadful disease will not claim me as it has so
many other good citizens of our city.
I have only been able to survive so far by confining myself to my
home. My rations to sustain me are few, and I am afraid that the water
and air outside is poisoned with what our citizens are calling the
"Pestilence". Many from here have fled, only to find that the plague moved
behind them, almost as it was following in their footsteps. Those who fled to
the countryside have fallen victim to the disease, there is no place far
enough to run, and no place safe to hide. What is to become of us?
People beg me to come out and write wills for the dying, but there is
nothing left untainted that is of any value to those who survive. It is best
to burn and destroy what they have, than to leave this plague as a testament.
So quick is this plague to destroy, that my friend in a letter to me
stated that many of his acquaintances: "ate lunch with their friends and had dinner with their ancestors in paradise."
No natural disaster to date has rivaled this pestilence in death toll- no earthquake, nor lightening, nor strong winds - there seems no way to stop it and I am concerned that the end of humanity is near.
The Medici family, the richest of the founding families, who for centuries wrested control away from the papacy is convinced that this is retribution for challenging the church. Our God could not be so cruel, many see this as a work of the devil himself. Caesar and his army would not have been able to drive this plague from our midst, so ruthless in it's taking of entire families, not pausing to differentiate rich from poor.
Our wonderful city of Florence, so rich in the best that art and architecture has to offer, stands eerily silent. For the last hundred years, Florence has flourished. It's reputation attracted many artists, doctors, apothecaries, judges, lawyers and bankers who built lavish homes and enjoyed a lifestyle of wealth. Many great undertakings grew out of this wealth, great churches, palaces, the transformation of the watch towers into tower houses- all indicate the commitment to Florence made by its citizenry. Citizens resided in resplendent buildings on city streets with regal names like Borgo degli Albizi, Santi Apostoli, and Via dei Cimatori.
Rumor had it that this pestilence came to Florence via Messina in Sicily. Boats docking at the harbor there carried passengers and crew who were sick or dying. Anyone who came near the boats or passengers would become sick within a day. A physician friend of mine described the symptoms of the sick to me as follows: coughing, followed by severe vomiting, and in the later stages, blood spewed from buboes behind the knee caps and under the armpits, and dried blood under the skin turned black. He confided that he was helpless to stop the progression of this illness, although he was offered many times his worth to cure desperately ill victims.
As this plague spread, many cities and towns were left empty. To stem the spread, the sick were often buried alive in mass trenches along with the rotting corpses of the dead. Slowly, this disease crept along the roads of Italy towards Florence.
The fury of this tempestuous plague has left no home in Florence undisturbed. There is great fear since no one seems to know what to do. Entire households are silenced, the dead lay inside undisturbed. Their domestic animals faired no better. Dogs,...
Bibliography: Nardo, D. 1999. The Black Death. San Diego, CA: Green haven Press, Inc.
Benedictow, O. J. 2004. The Black Death, 1346-1353: The Complete History. Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press
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