"Pest". A plague changes the world

Hardly any other disease has left such a mark on Western culture and shaped the cultural memory of Europe as deeply as the plague. Even though the last major outbreak on European soil took place three centuries ago, it is still present today.


A reference to the plague reliably appears in almost every medieval novel, and the appearance of the "plague doctor with the beak mask" in films or in the Venetian carnival continues to cause horror. Even today, in German we express our deepest contempt for something by "hating it like the plague."

Those who wish someone "Gesundheit!" after a sneeze do so unconsciously in response to plague symptoms of the past. The merciless and swiftly striking plague, from which apparently hardly any precaution or remedy helped and which indiscriminately carried off rich and poor, pious and godless in large numbers, not only impressed contemporaries during the late medieval deadly outbreaks, but also gave it the image of the "disease par excellence" among later generations.

It is no coincidence that the Covid19 pandemic of 2020 also immediately drew echoes of the plague. Although clinically speaking these are two completely different diseases, parallels can certainly be observed with regard to the reactions and countermeasures of the respective contemporaries.

However, the plague was not a constant phenomenon over the centuries: the phases of its occurrence differed, sometimes considerably, depending on time and place. Also, the plague, in interaction with other epidemics, was not only a persistent side effect of life, but also a driving force for profound changes in medicine, society and religion.

All information regarding this special exhibition in Lutherstadt Wittenberg / Germany can be found online on the website of our member "Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten" / Foundation Luther Memorials in Saxony-Anhalt.