July 6, 1348: Pope Clement VI issues a papal bull. A papal bull is a type of letters patent issued by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Letters patent are published legal instruments which issue orders from a leader to those under his/her command. The papal portion indicates the leader issuing the orders while the bull is named for the lead seal (bulla) attached at the end of the document to ensure its authenticity. They first saw use in the 6th century but the term was not used until the end of the 13th century. They begin with a formalized statement with the Pope’s name and title as well as Latin words indicating the title of the document. Following that is the text of the order and then it is formally signed and sealed with the papal seal or bulla. This was usually lead but for special and important cases, could be made of gold.
The papal bull issued on this day was sent out to Europeans to help protect Jews from persecution. The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics to ever strike humankind. There were an estimated 75 to 200 million deaths in Europe due to the plague which peaked between 1346 and 1353. This resulted in a third to two-thirds of Europe’s population wiped out. Pope Clement had only recently risen to his position and sought out the help of “experts” to determine the cause of these devastating losses. Unfortunately, the science of the time was not up to the task and so he was given bad advice. Popular opinion was as erroneous as the expert opinion, but with a different causative agent. The Jews were accused of purposely contaminating water supplies. Since they were often sequestered in their own parts of town and their kosher lifestyle demanded more cleanliness, they were often able to remain healthy. So they were blamed.
Clement issued his first papal bull protecting the Jews on this day without stopping the persecution. He reiterated the protection of the Church on September 26. He condemned the violence against Jews and said that the perpetrators had been “seduced by that liar, the Devil”. His orders were to local clergy who were urged to protect Jews, just as the Pope himself had done. Although he was warned to not minister to the sick, he ignored his experts and continued his practice or blessing the sick and those who had died. Although surrounded by death, the pontiff never contracted the disease.
Analysis of DNA from victims of the disease was published in 2010 and 2011 and the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium. It caused several different forms of what was known as Black Death. Overall world population fell by an estimated 450 million or 30-60% of the total population in the 14th century. The loss of such a great number of people caused upheavals in all aspects of life: economic, religious, and social. It had a profound effect on the civilized world of the time and it took almost 150 years for Europe’s population to recover. The disease was thought to have originated in the arid plains of Central Asia and traveled via the Silk Road to reach the Crimea in 1347 and then spread throughout Europe with small pockets of lands untouched by Death.
We all live in the protection of certain cowardices which we call our principles. – Mark Twain
Freedom is not an ideal, it is not even a protection, if it means nothing more than freedom to stagnate, to live without dreams, to have no greater aim than a second car and another television set. – Adlai Stevenson
Pessimism: A valuable protection against quackery. – John Ralston Saul
To have faith in Divine protection is good, but even better if backed by the practical assistance heaven has a right to expect from sensible mortals. – Edith Pargeter
Also on this day: The Greatest Show on Earth – In 1944, the Hartford Circus Fire killed over 100 attendees at the circus.
Dirigible – In 1919, the first east to west Atlantic crossing in an airship successfully concluded.
Rabidly Scientific – In 1885, Louis Pasteur began the first series of rabies shots.
Homestead Strike – In 1892, violence broke out during the strike.
Piper Alpha – In 1988, the oil platform exploded.