These were only initial ideas and contrary to what we may think of the middle ages, many churchmen and public officials recognized that the plague was a disease spread by infection, not vengeance from God25. Changes did in fact take place within the church, predominantly because they had to. Unholy people or ‘laymen’ were given permission to hear the last rites of the dying due to shortage of clergy available to hear them themselves; there own numbers had also diminished through loss to the plague. In some cases, women were allowed to hear the last rites, which of course would otherwise have been unheard of26.
The acceptance that the strict pre-requisites for entrance into the clergy could not be continued after the plague was a result of the diminished population and lack of available religious men. Like the skilled trades groups, the church also had to widen their nets to those not normally perhaps considered suitable to work within the church. Priests were ordained at twenty rather than twenty five and monastic vows could be administered at fifteen rather then twenty. The church was now heavily staffed by inexperienced, younger people which some felt was not a good direction for the church to be taking27. The privitisation of medieval religions began as middle class families built and staffed their own private chapels and chapters across Europe and segregated families and forms of worship in the church.
The church was certainly deeply affected by the plague and the ruptures in holy laws continued well into the aftermath. The loss of so many clergy and chapters, the privitisation and segregation of worship and general lack of faith were all by-products of the devastation and demonstrate similar levels of unrest as was on social Europe after the plague. Medically, society could do little to cope with the aftermath of the plague, as there simply wasn’t the knowledge of disease or of medicine to even effectively attempt the prevention of future outbreaks. Disease was rife as it was ad there had been eleven large-scale occasions of plague, small pox, measles and typhus fever, all before 1500.
The Black Death of 1348 – 49 was itself only one of the many outbreaks of the plague; not only were there many outbreaks before but it re-occurred for almost every generation in smaller quantities up until the fifteenth century28. These reoccurrences meant that for almost a century Europe could not properly recover from unbalance and general havoc created in 1348, as with each outbreak the recovery process socially and economically especially, took a step back.
Medical observers did note that the plague affected the poor more greatly as through poor diet and periods of famine, they were more susceptible to the ravages of diseases; they were deemed already almost dead29. The relationship between vulnerability to disease and poor diet became more apparent, particularly with the improved health with a better diet and quality of life after the plague.
Although understanding and knowledge in health was improved, the cause and in particular, the treatment remained a mystery for some time after. Boccacio noted that the best prevention in contracting plague was to simply get away: “…against plagues, no medicine was better than simple flight…”30. The Pope also attempted to seek the cause and obtained opinions of the medical faculty in Paris, They decided that disaster was caused by a particularly unfortunate “…conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, in the sign of Aquarius in 1345” 31 and that this in turn caused the earth to produce poison vapors. This lack of understanding of cause meant that society could not prepare themselves for another out-break other than to continue with their improves eating habits. This lack of knowledge in medicine hampered societies recovery in the aftermath whereas in other areas, society was able to move forward.
The areas of great movement indicate that medieval society was in need of immense change in way of life and if were not for the influence and altering affects of the Black death, it is in little doubt that the problems from overpopulation especially and the restraints of class divide would have continued, greatened and worsened life for all of Europe. The Black Death, as devastating it was, gave society the chance to refresh and renew itself and provide the opportunity for reflection, restructure and advancement. Medieval society coped very successfully in the aftermath by recognizing the renewed and rebalanced opportunities now open to them.
They broke the social deadlock tremendous poverty and suffering for the serfs and poor by taking advantage of new demands for labour, the re-trained and re-educated themselves to create personal advancement, new business and finance centers flourished and government and clergy positions and power were reconsidered. The reduced population allowed for quality of life to advance for all as the growth and production levels of food were now able to match if not exceed that of the remaining population. The post-plague people of medieval Europe were stronger, healthier people with perhaps a greater ability to consider their lives and society and how this could be improved.
It should be considered and remembered that although society did demonstrate great capability in coping in the aftermath of the plague, they were only able to make the advancements that they did due to the effects of plague. Without some great disruption, it is very unlikely that society would have changed at all and that the social and economic state of Europe would have only worsened. The plague changed everything that needed to change to allow the advancement for society – it vastly reduced the population. All necessary changes could then proceed to create a better life for all. Medieval society did cope effectively in most areas in the aftermath of the plague but only because the plague itself created a better demographic situation for the whole of medieval Europe to exist in.