Feudal and Medieval Europe

In feudal and medieval Europe, most disabled people were accepted as part of the family or group, working on the land or in small workshops. But at times of social upheaval, plague or pestilence, disabled people were often made scapegoats as sinners or evil people who brought the disasters upon society.

One reaction to this was that during times of plague, thousands of people, called flagellants, wandered around Europe beating themselves to try to make themselves more ‘holy’ so they didn’t get the plague. It was believed that if you were penitent you would not become ill or disabled. This horror of becoming disfigured or different was extremely powerful. If you were different you were somehow marked and this strong prejudice continues to the present day.

In the 15th century, black magic and evil forces were felt to be ever-present. Martin Luther, founder of Protestantism, speaking of congenitally impaired children, said:

“Take the changeling child to the river and drown it.”

In 16th-century Holland, those who caught leprosy were seen as sinners and had all their worldly goods confiscated by the state so they had to be supported by the alms of those who were not stricken. If these penitent sinners were humble enough, it was believed their reward was heaven after they died.

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Published in: on February 3, 2007 at 2:37 am  Comments Off on Feudal and Medieval Europe  
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