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Why did doctors wear strange masks with beaks against the plague?
The plague was the most terrible known disease for medieval people, which killed people in a very cruel and painful way. People had swollen lymph nodes en masse, which was very painful, and their skin was dark - and these are just some of the visible symptoms that frightened the population.
The ominous atmosphere was also contributed by the doctors at the time, who wore a black cloak and wore a mask with a long beak like a bird's. The reason why they wore these masks lies in the misconception about the origin of the disease.
During the outbreak of the bubonic plague - a pandemic that has been repeated in Europe for centuries - the cities affected by the disease hired doctors against the plague. They prescribed drugs that were believed to be protective equipment based on experience, but also autopsies that they performed, and they performed them wearing masks.
The beginning of wearing this costume is connected to Charles de Lorme, a doctor who took care of the health of many European rulers during the 17th century, including King Louis XIII and Gaston of Orleans, son of Maria de Medici. His, and other doctors' "uniforms," included a coat coated with fragrant wax that was tied to boots, a shirt with some kind of hood, a hat, and goatskin gloves. They also carried a stick with which they turned and removed the victims.
Particularly unusual was the way they protected their face: they wore a mask that had an eye opening (like glasses) and a long beak and was filled with a perfume made from a mixture of plants. The mask had two holes near the nostrils that allowed breathing, but also the strong smell of plants with which they were coated or coated.
The cause of the plague is the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is transmitted from animals to humans or through flea bites, also by contact with contaminated fluid or tissue and by droplets - that is, by sneezing and coughing of infected people. However, the doctors at the time believed that the disease spread through the air - and the measure for the degree of poisoning was an unpleasant odor - maism. They believed that this air created an imbalance in the body's juices.
As the unpleasant odor was the most dominant, they believed that the cause was hidden in it, so they protected themselves from it with strong perfumes. In addition to their own protection, it was believed that strong odors could "disinfect" areas infected with plague.
Doctors filled their masks with a mixture of more than 55 herbs and other components, such as the meat of some animals, which they minced to be in the form of powder, cinnamon, myrtle and honey. Those mixtures were like a kind of "filter" for them. De Lorme believed that the length of the beak gives enough time for that mixture to "kill" the plague, before it reaches the nostrils.
As many as three major plagues "swallowed" human lives before the cause was finally discovered. Justinian's plague, which raged from 541 to 750, and which killed about 10,000 people a day. The Black Death, which wiped out a third of Europeans between 1334 and 1372 and continued to appear occasionally; and the Third Pandemic, which ravaged much of Asia between 1894 and 1959.
In the end, the doctors' clothes against the plague - as well as their methods - did not matter much. "Unfortunately," writes historian Frank M. Snuden, "the therapeutic strategies of the physicians of the time had very little effect on prolonging life, alleviating suffering, or healing."
These doctors may have known immediately what it was about, but until the discovery of bacteria and modern antibiotics, their methods and costumes could not provide real protection against disease.