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Black Death: The Pope Leads

Pope Clement VI will forever be known as the Pope of the Black Death. His advisers have tried to protect him from the Plague by placing his throne between two bonfires. While the fire probably didn't help much, it did separate him from other people who might have been exposed but he is not putting up with it. He has gone amongst the people, visiting the sick, burying the dead and he has organized a procession through the papal city of Avignon. It is a plea for God's grace, but all it will do is expose more people to the Plague as they push together down the narrow streets. The Pope will survive but the groups most likely to die of Plague are the nuns ministering to the sick and the priests hearing confessions. They do their duty, nevertheless. With few exceptions, the best of them will not survive. [1]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
There are virtues and faults in every leader. From an administrative standpoint, Pope Clement VI is not a very good Pope but he has a number of moral virtues that any Christian can admire. He knows that he is the leader of his Church and he leads from the front. Not all of his decisions are good ones, but apparently this show of leadership is inspiring others to throw themselves into helping others. It's going to kill them but there is little else they can do and remain true to their religious cause. The Pope grants remission of all sins for those who die from the Plague.[2]

Black Death: A Question of Faith

The Black Death has ravaged Europe so thoroughly that many are questioning their belief in God and/or their trust in the clergy. The Muslims in Gibraltar were considering converting to Christianity... that is... until the Plague hit the Christians as well. As the Plague sweeps through Gibraltar, King Alfonso XI of Castile refuses to leave his men to die alone. He dies on Good Friday. He is succeeded by King Pedro the Cruel, the same man who was to marry Princess Joan to seal the alliance with England but she died of the Plague on her way to the wedding. This is also the year that the Plague reaches Sweden. A classic Swedish film on the Plague: "The Seventh Seal" features the Angel of Death and a dying Swedish knight in a chess match to save a life. You can click on the link to view the trailer (with English subtitles) on YouTube. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The Plague must have seemed like God's own disapproval. By the 1350s, criticism of the Church had became a national sport. Piers Plowman is a work written in the Plague's aftermath. Whether what the author writes is true or not, it demonstrates his loss of faith in the clergy, at the very least.

I saw the Friars there too—all four Orders of them—preaching to the people for what they could get... in their greed for fine clothes, they interpreted the Scriptures to suit themselves and their patrons. . . .

There was also a Pardoner, preaching like a priest. He produced a document covered with Bishops' seals, and claimed to have power to absolve all the people from broken fasts and vows of every kind... So the people give their gold to support these gluttons, and put their trust in dirty-minded scoundrels. (translated by S.F. Goodridge) [9] [10] [11]

Black Death: King Edward III Buys a Plot

Those who planned ahead bought burial plots for themselves and their families. This was both practical and a plea to God for clemency. In a sense, it was a contribution to the Church and thus a hope that it might gain them some favor with God. King Edward III of England buys an entire cemetery and makes a donation to establish a monastery. He pledges 1 million pounds sterling annually (about 4 million dollars). The royal family will manage to survive the Black Death, more or less intact, so the cemetery won't be needed for any mass burials of the royals. Perhaps Princess Joan was looking out for them from Heaven. After Princess Joan had died of the Plague in 1348, the King had speculated she might intercede on their behalf. [12]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The Plague has totally changed the perspective of people. Optimism has taken a serious nosedive. Historians don't have many writings from the peasants. At most, 5% of the peasants were literate. Most of the writings come from the gentry: the higher-level clergy and nobles. Their focus has moved from indulgences and extravagances to austerity and somberness. One can hardly blame them. Also, drinking has increased. No big surprise there either. [13][14] [15]

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1350, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Orent, Wendy. (Wendy Orent, bio). Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease, Free Press. 2004-May-4. pp. 129-131. (BOOK)
  2. Pope Clement VI - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  3. Dols, Michael W.. The Black Death in the Middle East, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977. p. 66. (BOOK) quote="It was said that the Muslims were so deeply disturbed by their suffering while the Christian army was unaffected that many of them seriously thought of adopting Christianity."
  4. Cantor, Norman F., In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made, Harper Perennial, 2001. p. 7. (BOOK)
  5. The Seventh Seal - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  6. The Seventh Seal (1958) - Official Trailer - YouTube, 2014 [last update]
  7. Alfonso XI of Castile - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  8. Peter of Castile - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  9. Cantor, Norman F. The Civilization of the Middle Ages, Norman F. Cantor, Harper Perennial, August 3, 1994. p. 537. (BOOK)
  10. William Langland - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  11. Piers Plowman - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  12. Cantor, Norman F., In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made, Harper Perennial, 2001. pp. 53-54.(BOOK) quote="Edward III himself made a similar contribution to the salvation of the souls of the plague victims. In 1350 he purchased a plague cemetery close to the Tower of London, land originally acquired in the previous year by John Corey, a clerk from Holy Trinity Priory.
  13. Note from Alex Shrugged: The 5% literacy rate of peasants is a statistic pulled from memory of my reading. I could probably pull out an exact citation but I'm not going to. Whatever the exact number, it's extremely poor at this time.
  14. Gentry - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  15. Cantor, Norman F., In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made, Harper Perennial, 2001. pp. 55-56.(BOOK) quote="He also downed large quantities of claret and openly declared that he and his companions readily lost their senses in wine."

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