How the Catholic Church adapted during the Black Plague

“Saint Sebastian Interceding for the Plague Stricken,” Josse Lieferinxe (The Walters Art Museum)

It’s not really fair or responsible to draw comparisons between the Black Plague and our current coronavirus pandemic. Our situation pales in comparison to 50 million deaths, or roughly 50 percent of Europe’s population alone, in the mid-14th century. But what was true then is true now: The Catholic Church needed to change the way that it normally operated. And, as usual, history can be an illuminating teacher. 

Winston Black is a professor and medieval historian who focuses on the intersection of medicine and religion in the Middle Ages. We ask him to describe just how severe the Black Plague was, the church’s pastoral response and lessons the church can learn today. 


As we mentioned on the show, Jesuitical is going to try to increase our production during this time. That means you can expect more than one episode a week in your podcast feeds. You can listen to our first bonus conversation, featuring Matt Malone, S.J., president and editor in chief of America (a.k.a. our boss), now. We talk about developing a new appreciation for the Eucharist and what real political leadership looks like in this crisis. 

You can also connect with the show in our Facebook group, where members of the community are planning a Zoom meetup for other Jesuitical listeners. 

Please pray for us, and know that we are praying for you. 

Links from the show 

Signs of the Times: 
Read: Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi address on coronavirus and Jesus calming the storm
Podcast: Inside Pope Francis’ unprecedented Urbi et Orbi blessing for the end of coronavirus
Site crashes as half million-plus watch England’s rededication to Mary
Coronavirus forces Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre to close its doors for first time since 1349: 'Very sad'
For Shut-In Pilgrims, the World’s Holiest Sites Are a Click Away
Catholic leaders praise Colorado's repeal of death penalty

Books by Dr. Black: 
Medicine and Healing in the Premodern West: A History in Documents
The Middle Ages: Facts and Fictions

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