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How The Bubonic Plague Lead To Protestant Reformation

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The Bubonic plague was an extremely infectious illness that became wide spread across Europe and Asia. The plague was an enzootic disease that was transmitted from a flea that was previously attached to some type of rodent, usually a rat, to humans. At the time, the sudden illness and immediate death that followed soon after was unexplained because there wasn’t a way for society to get a medical explanation. Because of the lack of knowledge, people believed this was the wrath of God. People who weren’t infected or survived the plague questioned why God would do such a thing and wondered what they possibly did to deserve this epidemic. Society first turned to the church, but they soon started to question their part in the plague only because they believed that the church is what stands between them and God. Certain events gave off a domino effect and before the fall of the Roman Catholic Church that was followed by the Protestant Reformation, the Mongols had to successfully build their empire and establish trade routes throughout Europe.

Being as nomadic as they were, the Mongols were found living on the Eurasian Steppes, on the north boundaries of the old Chinese empire, the Great Wall, and in the edges of Gobi Desert. The Mongols were able to cover so much land because of “The Great Unifier”, Chinggis Khan, Temujin. He was able to lead his empire southward, conquering the Western Xia Dynasty, the Jin Dynasty (1215), Central Asia, and the Eurasian Steppes. His armies would travel with three Mongolian ponies per warrior which allowed them to carry lightly and rotate evenly so they could travel further. The Mongols were a successful and powerful empire that easily moved through Europe. Establishing working trade routes and adding routes was their primary focus throughout the entire rule.

Trade was part of the Mongolian way of life because their nomadic tendencies didn’t allow them to grow their own food or attain their own goods. They heavily relied on their herds for important things such as food and clothes but then leaned toward trade when they needed something else. By connecting routes, the Mongols were able to set up a system that allowed merchants to transport good safely and it gave Mongols the chance to make money by transporting good for others, “the Mongols generated the income to purchase the items they did not produce, such as grain and certain manufactured goods, by moving goods and trading. Hence the crucial importance of trade to them.”[footnoteRef:1] Around this time, the Mongols were using multiple trade routes that they established but it wasn’t until the reopening of the Afro-Eurasian routes and the restart of trade on the old silk road that the Mongols and rest of Europe started seeing some negative aspects to trading. With this Mongolian expansion, merchants moved more goods and animals, but this also invited unwanted rodents to wonder to different places. This was the introduction of the plague to Europe. [1: Abi-Hammad, Saad. 9-Mongols- Chenggis through Kubilai, (Florida International University, Miami, FL, March 2, 2019) 2.]

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Deadly diseases like the bubonic plague and smallpox were at their peak when the trade routes were fully functioning. Merchants would be in contact with others from different part of the continent which easily allowed illnesses and diseases to spread. Unlike a common cold, the plague wasn’t curable. Those infected will experience high fever, lesions, and buboes and it will spread to the lungs causing pneumonia like symptoms and death will happen within 10 days or less. This plague was classified as bacterial even though it was transmitted through a flea. The bacteria was known as Yersinia Pestis and the flea was known as Xenopsylla Cheopis. The plague only affected humans when a flea would jump from a rodent to humans but according to Three Days in October of 1630, “humans are a last resort for these deadly fleas.”[footnoteRef:2] The Bubonic plague was also known as “The Black Death” because of the visible black filled pus buboes that could be found in the armpit or groin area. The plague was highly contagious so if you were known to be infected then you would be quarantined. In 1320, the first major outbreak of the bubonic plague was recorded in the Yunnan province in China. With it being so contagious, the plague had finally reached Europe in 1347 “through various Italian city states”[footnoteRef:3]. By 1348, Germany, France, England, and Italy had all experienced an outbreak. By 1350, Norway, Eastern Europe, and Russia were also affected. [2: Stephen R. Ell. Three Days in October 1630: Detailed Examination of Mortality during an Early Modern Plague Epidemic in Venice, (Oxford University Press, Jan- Feb., 1989) 5.] [3: Abi-Hammad, Saad. 10- The Black Death, (Florida International University, Miami, FL, March 2, 2019) 2.]

The Black Death didn’t discriminate, and it was a traumatic experience for everyone who experienced it first hand and traumatic to those who knew someone who went through it. Those who survived truly believed that the plague was a result of God’s wrath and the lack of scientific research had people questioning the church. During this time, it was believed that the church was the gateway between God and his people, so survivors wondered what the church was doing to upset Him. Nobody truly understood the assumed “wrath of God” so movements like flagellants began to rise due to the aftermath confusion. Survivors began to punish themselves because they felt like they were disobeying God by surviving through the plague, “Flagellants sought to punish themselves to atone for their sins and the sins of mankind in the hope of appeasing God and sparing them from the plague. They would basically whip and scourge themselves.”[footnoteRef:4] The church cared for the sick and assisted those who really needed it, but they suffered great losses because of it. The church was only questioned up until they decided to start started “selling indulgences (selling a ticket out of hell or purgatory)”[footnoteRef:5]. By doing so, this gave churches the opportunity to abuse those who felt like they cheated death and were disobeying God’s wishes. Peasants found out about this and started to revolt against the church. [4: Saad. 10- The Black Death, 13.] [5: Ibid., 11. ]

This began the start the split of the church and the official start of the Protestant Reformation. The church had an unnecessary amount of power over the communities and they used that to their advantage. People decided it was time for a change, they revolted, and people were successfully doing things on their own. The fall of the church started with the expansion of the Mongolian empire, the opening and reopening of trade routes, allowing the plague to run through Europe and Asia destroying towns and tearing families apart. Questioning the orders and questioning the church especially after the selling of indulgences is what people needed so they would be able to start a historical movement.

The Bubonic plague was a sudden and deadly illness and it was a major event in history. It was the third step in the fall of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestant Reformation successfully happened because the Mongols expanded, and used many trade routes that allowed access to everyone and allowed the plague to spread. The Bubonic plague infected everyone it could, and it killed many. In this time, the church came in to help those who needed but they were questioned in the aftermath because they are the gateway between the people and God. They wanted to rebuild the church by gaining funds, but they were extremely greedy to those who confided in them. Disease was able to tie together with the destruction of the church and the formation of the Protestant Reformation.

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