Efforts to Stop the Plague
3 minutes to read | Updated for 2019
Although the government had medical workers try to prevent the plague, it persisted. Most medical workers quit and journeyed away because they feared catching disease themselves.
“When the government acts to prevent or control a calamity, but the calamity persists, people turn to cures. Many believed that the disease was transmitted upon the air, probably because the smell from the dead and dying was so awful. So, the living turned to scents to ward off the deadly vapors. People burned all manner of incense: juniper, laurel, pine, beech, lemon leaves, rosemary, camphor and sulfur. Others had handkerchiefs dipped in aromatic oils, to cover their faces when going out. Another remedy was the cure of sound. Towns rang church bells to drive the plague away, for the ringing of town bells was done in crises of all kinds. Other towns fired cannons, which was new and made a comfortingly loud ding. There were no ends to talismans, charms, and spells that could be purchased from the local wise woman or apothecary. Many people knew of someone’s friend or cousin who had drank elderberry every day, or who had worn a jade necklace, and who had survived the dreaded disease.”
Some methods did work. “Cities were hardest hit and tried to take measures to control an epidemic no one understood. In Milan, to take one of the most successful examples, city officials immediately walled up houses found to have the plague, isolating the healthy in them along with the sick. Venice took sophisticated and stringent quarantine and health measures, including isolating all incoming ships on a separate island. But people died anyway, though fewer in Milan and Venice than in cities that took no such measures. Pope Clement VI, living at Avignon, sat between two large fires to breath pure air. The plague bacillus actually is destroyed by heat, so this was one of the few truly effective measures taken.”