Introduction to episode 2 50 20 Medieval diseases. Ichild birth. Infectious diseases were a normal aspect of life infection from person to person the disease has a long latencydisease is caused by mycobacterium leprae, which is related tothe pathogen that causes tuberculosis. After transmission of then the middle ages the population of Maastricht was used tothe bad news that mothers and children had not survived in the small town, which had no sewage, but open pools and period and a chronic course. Leprosy is not very contagious, and water wells and where the poor lived close together. Smallpox, infection often remains limited to the families of sufferers. measles, typhoid fever and influenza occurred frequently in the Most people with leprosy do not die from this disease. town, and took their toll year in year out. Mortality was high, especially among infants and malnourished poor and vulnerable It seems hard to reconcile the large numbers of lepers and leper elderly people. Many inhabitants of Maastricht did not live to colonies in Europe in the eleventh and fourteenth centuries see their fortieth birthday. with the fact that leprosy has always been a relatively rare As in all of Europe, sickness and death were a normal disease. Every medieval town had a leprosarium, in Maastricht part of daily life. The sick were cared for at home. Folk known as lazerij, where lepers were housed. In all probability medicine and barber-surgeons mostly caused more evil than most lepers did not suffer from ‘actual’ leprosy. Research of good. Parish priests and mendicant monks preached that human remains from cemeteries where lepers are buried has sickness and death were inevitable in this earthly vale of tears confirmed this assumption. There are two possible explanations. and that suffering on earth would strongly advance one’s In the middle ages diagnosis was difficult and as a result any chances of being taken up into heaven. Leprosy and the plague, scaling or disfiguring skin defect could be mistaken for leprosy. however, were medieval diseases that deviated in almost every More importantly, however, in those days the diagnosis of way from this customary pattern. To people in the middle ages, leprosy was synonymous not only with bodily uncleanness but these diseases were not normal, but they were viewed as also with moral impurity. A chronicle of a monastery in Paris biblical afflictions, as the scourge of God, and both led to the from the twelfth century sums it up in one list: “lewd people, isolation of sufferers. Leprosy and the plague were a scourge of concubines, those who commit incest, adulterers, greedy God for different groups of people. Leprosy afflicted individuals people, usurers, false witnesses, people who perjure themselves who had committed severe violations of the commandments of (…). All such people, who through guilt are cut off from God, the church. The plague, however, was seen as a punishment of are marked as lepers by the priests”. The majority of medieval the entire population of a dissolute and godless town. lepers did not have leprosy but were marked out as lepers for immorality or heresy and cast out of society. In Maastricht too To this day, leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, occurs in there were set procedures for this. For centuries leprosy was a poor rural areas of Africa and Asia. This infectious disease is fixed part of healthcare in the medieval town, but its spread was characterised by visible skin defects, nerve damage and limited. In Maastricht there were several dozen patients at eventually severe deformations of hands, feet and face. The most.
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