But for many medieval people such causal explanations were too “natural”; they preferred to see supernatural beings: angels or demons, the small blue flame in the sky seen in Düsseldorf in 1348, the witchlike apparition called “la Mère Peste” or “l’Ulcéreuse.”11 With explanations such as these we enter a murky area between environmental and contagionist explanations of disease. Does God send the small blue flame to pass plague from one individual to another (contagion), or to infect the entire atmosphere (environmental)? When individuals (“l’Ulcéreuse”) were specified in the transmission process, contagion was close at hand, despite the universities and their bad air. Certainly European cities and people reacted almost instinctively as though they accepted contagion-ism. In 1347 Catanians attempted, without success, to keep those fleeing Messina out of Catania, and in 1348–1350 their efforts at quarantine were many times repeated all over Europe. In fact European thinking about the plague did not fall into clear categories of “contagionism” or “environmental cause.” Europeans accepted God’s power as the primary cause and saw that power working in many ways. Bedeviled by guilt, they saw humankind as a whole as provoking divine wrath; perhaps reacting in fear and denying their individual guilt, they blamed other individuals, either because those people had sinned or because they mali- ciously and deliberately spread disease. Lepers and Jews, both groups outside the framework of Christian society, were likely candidates for such accusations. So too were domestic animals.
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