At the beginning of the 19th century, people were afflicted by a terrible disease: heavy sweating, slight fever, lack of strength, severe headaches and pain in the limbs as well as nausea, soon followed by strange, dark growths under the armpits, in the groin, on the neck and on the elbows; a day later, dark spots all over the body and days of unbearable pain with a high fever – a short time later, most of the sick died: The plague had broken out.
The plague in Europe
When the "Black Death", as the plague is also called, struck Europe in the years 1348-1350, it is estimated that about 25 million people fell victim to it. That was about one third of the entire European population. Whether rich or poor, man, woman or child – no one was safe from the Black Death. The most common forms of the plague were the bubonic plague described above and the more radical pneumonic plague, in which people usually died within three days after suffering severe chest pains and spitting up blood.
It was not until 1894 that the Swiss doctor Alexandre Yersin discovered the plague pathogen. Therefore, today we know that the plague is a bacterial infectious disease that can be treated with antibiotics. In the Middle Ages, the plague pathogen was transmitted from rats to fleas, which in turn attacked humans. Due to the unhygienic conditions, the disease was able to spread quickly. Today, the plague occurs sporadically in areas of North and South America, Africa, and North Asia, although the disease can be cured if detected early and the probability of a plague epidemic is low.
Miniature from the Toggenburg Bible (Switzerland) of 1411. The disease is generally thought to be plague, but it could also be smallpox. (Image: Wikimedia Commons / public Domain)
The plague in Leonberg
In Leonberg, the plague raged several times and is, in addition to the great European epidemic of 1348 – for the years 1420, 1572, 1576, 1584 to 1586, 1594, 1596/97, 1608/09, 1611/12 and 1626/27 survived, although these records may also be other epidemics. The Black Death cost many their lives: In Eltingen, 253 people lost their lives in 1596/97, which was about one third of the population.
Anna Wendel from Eltingen, who had served as a maid in Hirschlanden, fell ill in mid-August 1596. On 26. August she died. A few days later, the family father Georg Wendel lost another child, a three-week-old infant. On 9. September his little daughter Christine was buried, one day later one of his sons and the following day another daughter was buried. On 12. September, the father of the family died himself after four days of illness. He was followed by four daughters. Three sons to the grave. The plague had killed all but the wife Margaretha. The son Johannes of the large family took his own life.
In 1635, the plague claimed 660 victims in Eltingen, 113 in Gebersheim, 245 in Hofingen and 635 in Leonberg – d.h. Only half to one third of the population escaped the cruel disease.
As the number of dead exceeded the capacity of the cemetery, a new cemetery had to be built outside the town. This cemetery, where the first burials took place in 1572, is the Old Cemetery that still exists today. Because of the many war-. Plague victims it had to be extended in 1650. In 1663 it was commemorated with a memorial plaque. It was once embedded in the north wall. Today it is in the Leonberg City Museum. Due to the decline in population and lack of clergy, church services were often cancelled. There were also few gravediggers and often the deceased were found in their homes days later. People lived in fear and terror, rarely leaving their homes. Another consequence was that because of the deaths no Vogtgericht could be held 1 and also the fair had to be cancelled ( – even if this was rather an insignificant consequence). Due to the great death food became cheaper because of the decreasing demand, but of course nobody could be happy about this during the plague.
Memorial stone for the victims of the plague, which killed 635 people in Leonberg alone in 1635. The stone is now in the town museum. (Picture: City Archive Leonberg – Photo Collection Buhler)
Measures against the plague
Where the disease came from, no one knew. From God's punishment for man's sins, to unfavorable planetary constellations and poisonous vapors from the earth's interior, to well poisoning by Jews – different explanations were soon found. People also drew consequences from these theories: To reconcile with God, people prayed more often and confessed their sins. Some believers began to flagellate themselves. So they went about beating themselves bloody to atone for their sins. Others tried to absolve themselves of their sins, so that the Church's trade in indulgences always increased during plague epidemics. Wealthy individuals, such as the bailiff or the mayor of Leonberg, obtained mixtures of medicines from the Stuttgart court pharmacist Hans Jacob Kuennlen to protect themselves from the disease, respectively. to cure it. Also the barber Ufmsand mixed a pestilence potion and other medicines for all Leonbergers who could afford it. However, just like other responses to the disease, such medicines were ultimately in vain.
Where the disease came from, no one knew. From God's punishment for people's sins, to unfavorable planetary constellations and poisonous vapors from the earth's interior, to well poisoning by Jews – different explanations were soon found. People also drew consequences from these theories: In order to reconcile with God, people prayed more often and confessed to their sins. Some believers began to flagellate themselves. So they went around and beat each other bloody to atone for their sins. Others tried to absolve themselves of their sins, so that the Church's trade in indulgences always increased during plague epidemics. Wealthy people, such as the bailiff or the mayor of Leonberg, obtained mixtures of medicines from the Stuttgart court pharmacist Hans Jacob Kuennlen in order to protect themselves from the disease. to cure it. The barber Ufmsand also mixed a pestilence potion and other medicines for all Leonbergers who could afford it. However, just like other responses to the disease, such medicines were ultimately in vain.
Plague doctor in Venice. Watercolor by Jan van Grevenbroeck, 18. Jh., Correr Museum, Venice. The protective clothing came at the beginning of 17. Jh. in use. Typical is the beak-shaped mask filled with perfumes or a sponge soaked in vinegar, which was supposed to purify the air from the plague gases. The getup was complemented by a long robe, gloves and goggles to protect against the dreaded contagion through eye contact. The plague staff had to be carried by all persons who had contact with plague patients.