The Black Plague and its ghosts
In 1347, a strange disease came from the Middle East through the Mediteranean harbours. Less than a year later, it arrived in Paris. The inhabitantswere totally thrown into confusion, disabled facing this new evil they called the Black Plague. Half of the parisians died within a year. The Hotel-Dieu hospital, next to Notre Dame, still stading today, was overcrowded. The dead were transferred in the Saint-Innocent graveyard – it stands today beneath the Chatelet cobblestones. They were so numbered and time was missing for sacraments and masses. They were thrown into a gigantic pit and barely covered with a shovel of dirt.
Those years were times of terror for the Parisians. They could hear from their houses the agony of their relatives in the Hotel-Dieu. In the Saint-Innocent mass grave, the roting dead bodies were releasing gazes in the form of ghost-lights, “feux-follet”. The locals used to believe those were the wandering souls of people who died without a mass.
There was scarier. During medieval times, medecin couldn’t yet make any difference between death or coma. Many of the people lying in the Hotel Dieu were considered gone, yet they were only not conscious. They were buried alive. Therefore, the frightened Parisians used to hear the mass graves mourning at night, and the dirt slowly moving, sometimes one poor hand blossoming through. For those medieval minds, those were without any doubt troubled undead coming back.
The Great Plague faded around 1350, but it never letf the Parisiens memories. It killed without any distinction the noble and the poor, the young and the old. From those terrible days, Death was then represented as the Reaper, gathering blindly all souls. Above the dark Saint-Innocent graveyard, the Parisians rose a statue called The Death of the Saint-Innocent, that you still can admire in the Louvre. It recalls to everyone that each one’s destiny, whatever is your rank or your birth, is to eventually lay down in the dirt and end up worms meal.
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