Tag Archives: Middle Ages

The Black Death in Venice and the Dawn of Quarantine

13 May
An aerial view of the lagoon of Venice.

An aerial view of the lagoon of Venice. DIDIER DESCOUENS / CC BY-SA 4.0

JUST BEYOND THE SHORES OF Venice proper—a city that comprises dozens of islands—lie two uninhabited isles with a rich history. Today these landmasses are landscapes of grasses, trees, and worn stone buildings. But once they were among the most important gateways to this storied trading city.

The islands, known as Lazzaretto Vecchio and Lazzaretto Nuovo, are now yielding fascinating insights into Venice’s response to one of the most famous pandemics in history. In the mid-14th century, Venice was struck by the bubonic plague, part of an outbreak known as the Black Death that may have killed up to 25 million people, or one-third of the population, in Europe. This spread was just one of several waves of the plague to strike Northern Italy in the centuries that followed.

Venice, as a trading center, was especially vulnerable. “They saw that the only solution was to separate people, to take away the sick people, or suspected sick people,” says Francesca Malagnini, of the University for Foreigners, Perugia, who is herself a Venetian, linguist, and member of an interdisciplinary team researching Lazzaretto Nuovo. “This was the only way to protect everyone’s health and allow the economy to continue.”

So begins an Atlas Obscura reprint of a fascinating article by Sara Toth Stub on Venice and the origins of quarantine in Europe in the 14th century. You may read the entire article here.

Resurrection Hope For Notre Dame

16 Apr

I was in a meeting with my fellow graduate deans when I first saw the pictures. My colleague just handed me his phone. He said something, but I don’t remember his words as the image drowned out everything else. The small screen connected me  to people all over the world and we watched, together, in silence and shock, as fire ravaged Notre Dame.

So begins historian Beth Allison Barr’s historical and theological reflections on the fire in Notre Dame cathedral. You may read her entire Anxious Bench post here.

Go Medieval by Attaching a Book to Your Belt

23 Apr

A girdle book held by the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

GIRDLE BOOKS HAD TO BE small, and they had to be light. From the bottom edges of their bindings extended an length of leather, usually gathered into a knot at the end. This extension of the cover could be used to carry the book like a purse or could be tucked into a girdle or belt. To read, the owner wouldn’t even have to detach the book; when taken up, the book would be oriented correctly, just as if it had been pulled from a shelf.

So begins Sarah Laskow’s fascinating report on girdle books. You may read the rest of her Atlas Obscura piece here.

Bringing the Spirit of (Medieval) Santa Back to Christmas

30 Nov

Historian Beth Allison Barr offers some historically-informed reflections on Christmas past and present. (Also, her reflections seem apropos Sinterklaas Day, which will soon be observed here in Orange City.) Read Barr’s Anxious Bench post here: Bringing the Spirit of (Medieval) Santa Back to Christmas – Anxious Bench

The Gruesome Legend of Swedish King Might Actually Be True

22 Mar

Forensic evidence gives credence to mythic life (and death) of Erik the Lawgiver (Erik the IX), who became Saint Erik. Find the story at Atlas Obscura: The Gruesome Legend of Swedish King Might Actually Be True | Atlas Obscura

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