A forgotten corner linked to the Black Death.
There is a corner of Kirkmichael Parish churchyard where, despite the lack of space, there are no marked graves.
This is because in 1350 AD, a terrible plague, the Galor Mor, better known as the Black Death, struck the glen and its victims were buried in unmarked graves.
To ward off the plague, the Bishop of Dunkeld visited his surrounding parishes administering consecrated items, one of which was water into which the bones of St. Columba had been dipped. Those who drank the water lived; those who refused to drink died. The bishop declared that the bones of those who succumbed to the plague would retain the disease, and the corner of the churchyard where they were buried remains undisturbed.
The deadliest disease of the Medieval Age was the Black Death. It may have killed as many as half of the population of Europe. Medieval doctors were helpless against the Black Death.
The Black Death struck first in England and the Scots said ‘it had befallen them through the revenging hand of God'. They called it 'the foul death of England'. The Scots planned to take advantage of the situation by invading England when the Black Death struck north of the border.
'In 1350, there was a great pestilence and mortality of men in the kingdom of Scotland, and this pestilence also raged for many years before and after in various parts of the world.'
Scotichronicon, John of Fordun
Medieval society was deeply affected by the Black Death. Apart from the personal and family devastation it wrought, the plague all but destroyed the economic life of Scotland as well as affecting the politics and culture of the nation.
With so few people available to do jobs, wages rose, investment fell, and sometimes fields were simply left to rot. Scotland struggled to cope so much that it took until the late 15th century for economic prospects to recover after the initial outbreak. A whole way of life altered, and the trade and manufacturing progress that had been made after the Wars of Independence almost came to a halt.
Images of ‘the Danse Macabre’ - the Dance of Death - appeared in churches and cathedrals, reminding people that everyone, rich and poor alike, would all face death and judgement.
'The first signs of the plague were lumps in the groin or armpits. After this, livid black spots appeared on the arms and thighs and other parts of the body. Few recovered. Almost all died within three days, usually without any fever.'
Boccaccio, Florence, 1348