The Plage Glossery

Ministry Letters

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Anti-clericalism: Feelings or attitudes that were critical of or hostile to the Catholic Church hierarchy and clergy; often generated in the wake of the Black Death.

Apostemata, aposteme: Commonly used medieval term for bubo.

Astrology: A branch of medieval science that studied the effects of celestial bodies—especially the moon, planets, and stars—on the earth, its nations, and its people.

Bacillus: A single-celled, rod-shaped bacterium.

Bubo: From the Greek word for groin, the swollen condition of lymph nodes in the human victim of bubonic plague. These are created by the collection of bacteria and dead human cells.

Bubonic plague: Human disease caused by Y. pestis in which the flea-induced bacillus concentrates in and disrupts the lymph nodes, causing them to swell. Death results from toxic shock. Without treatment lethality in modern times is 40 to 60 percent.

Ciompi Revolt (1378): Uprising of Florentine woolworkers who demanded production and wages as they had been before the Plague and a voice in the government.

Commensal: Sharing living and eating space with people; true of the R. rattus.

Consilium: Written medical analysis and advice from one physician to another or to a patient at his request.

Contagion: Transmission of a disease by direct physical contact.

Demography: The study of the various characteristics of a human population and their changes over time.

Divine intercessors: Deceased holy people who were thought by Catholics to reside in Heaven with God and could successfully ask for God's help for people still in the world. For the Plague, Mary, Sebastian, and Roch were the most universal.

Endemic: Present in and usually common to a specific human population.

Enzootic: Present in and usually common to a specific animal population.

Epidemic: An outbreak of a disease that affects a relatively high percentage of a given human population.

Epidemiology: A branch of medicine that studies epidemic diseases.

Epizootic: An outbreak of a disease that affects a relatively high percentage of a given animal population.

Extreme unction: Roman Catholic sacrament for the dying that included one's final communion and confession.

Flagellants: Catholic laymen who joined processions in which all whipped themselves and each other in an attempt to atone to God for people's sinfulness; the movement was suppressed by the Church and political leaders.

Humors: The four fluids that course through the human body: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. According to medieval theory, their proper balance is essential for good health.

Iconography: The cultural meaning of a specific artistic image or image type.

Immunity: The quality of an organism that allows it to encounter a normally harmful substance without experiencing the normal injury.

Lethality: A measure, usually in percent, of how much of a specific population dies of a specific disease.

Lymphatic system: The network of veins or vessels in the human body that carry lymph, a clear fluid that cleanses tissues of dead cells, bacteria, and other impurities. In places such as the armpits, groin, and neck are lymph nodes, or reservoirs where these impurities collect.

Miasma: Polluted or poisonous vapors or air; considered by most medieval physicians to be the cause of the Plague.

Morbidity: A measure, usually in percent, of how much of a specific population contracts a specific disease.

Natalism: Societal attitudes and resulting public policies that are supportive of couples having children in order to repopulate an area after the Plague.

Notary: A trained legal scribe who drew up official personal, guild, and communal documents such as contracts, wills, and minutes of council meetings. Notaries were often present at the bedsides of the dying.

Pandemic: An outbreak of a disease that affects a high percentage of people in many populations. Historians recognize three pandemics of bubonic plague, the Black Death being the second.

Pathogenic: Capable of being very dangerous to an organism.

Peasants' Revolt (1381): Uprising of rural poor and middle-class people who marched on London demanding a return to pre-Plague labor conditions and a lowering of recently raised taxes.

Plague reservoir: A widely spread population of wild mammals, usually isolated from people, among whom the Plague bacillus is endemic over a long period of time.

Pneumonic or pulmonary plague: Human disease caused by Y. pestis in which the bacillus concentrates in and disrupts the lungs. Primary form is caused by the victim's breathing in the airborne bacillus; secondary begins with an infected flea's bite. Lethality is about 100 percent.

Pogrom: Violent and destructive assault on a Jewish community.

Poison libel: Notorious claim that Jewish people were responsible for poisoning water wells used by Christians. Belief in this fueled anti-Semitic attitudes and actions and led to massacres in France, Spain, and Germany.

Prophylaxis: Actions taken to prevent the outbreak or spread of a disease.

Quarantine: The isolation for a set period of people, animals, or objects suspected of carrying a contagious disease.

Rattus rattus: Species also known as the black or house rat and considered to be responsible for carrying the fleas that spread the bubonic plague.

Septicemic plague: Human disease caused by Y. pestis in which the flea-induced bacillus concentrates in and disrupts the bloodstream, causing septic shock. Lethality is about 100 percent.

Statute of Laborers (1351): Extension of English government's earlier

Ordinance of Laborers that attempted to limit workers' mobility and wage levels in light of the post-Plague inflation.

Sumptuary laws: Laws regulating the public display of wealth, including style or material of clothing and the use of excessive pomp at funerals in Plague times. Lower-class people were forbidden to dress like the upper class, and excessive display wasted resources and fueled envy.

Verjuice: A common medieval acidic sauce and marinade used in cooking to aid digestion and during the Plague for cleansing living quarters.

Virulence: A measure of the ability of one organism to injure another.

Xenopsylla cheopis: The rat flea that is considered the principal vector of the Y. pestis bacillus that causes bubonic plague.

Yersinia pestis: The bacillus responsible for causing the disease known as bubonic plague. It has three recognized variants: antiqua, medi-evalia, and orientalis. It was first isolated by Alexandre Yersin in


Zodiac: A series of twelve constellations of stars that stretch across the sky and through which the sun appears to move. Thought to possess the power to influence people and events, they were studied as part of the medieval pseudoscience of astrology.

Zoonosis: A disease, such as bubonic plague, that is generally found among animals but can be transferred to people.

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