did doctors wear bird masks

The clothing worn by plague doctors was intended to protect them from airborne diseases during outbreaks of bubonic plague in Europe.[2] It is often seen as a symbol of death and disease.[3] However, the costume was mostly worn by late Renaissance and early modern physicians studying and treating plague patients.[4] Paul Fürst, engraving, c.

Description edit Plague doctor outfit from Germany (17th century)

The outfit consists of a leather hat, a glass-eyed mask with a beak, gloves, a waxed linen robe, boots, and a stick to take off the plague victim’s clothing. [2].

The standard mask featured glass apertures for the eyes and a curved beak resembling a bird’s beak, secured in place by straps in front of the physician’s nose. [5] The mask was a sort of respirator that contained aromatic materials and had two tiny nose holes. [6] The beak could contain juniper berries, ambergris, cloves, labdanum, myrrh, and storax, as well as dried flowers (usually roses and carnations), herbs (usually lavender and peppermint), camphor, or a vinegar sponge. The mask was meant to block out unpleasant odors, like the stench of rotting corpses. The most dangerous type of “bad air” that could be detected was called miasma. This was believed to be the main reason behind the illness. [10] Medical professionals thought the herbs would block the plague’s “evil” odors and keep people from getting sick. [11] Despite the falsity of these specific theories regarding the nature of the plague, it’s possible that the costume did provide some protection for the wearer. The clothes shielded the body from blood, lymph, and cough droplets, and the waxed robe kept fleas—the real plague carriers—from touching the body or sticking to the linen. [12].

The wide-brimmed leather hat indicated their profession. [2][13] Physicians examined patients without touching them by using wooden canes to indicate areas that needed attention. [14] The canes were also employed to keep people at a distance[15] and to take off plague victims’ garments without having to come into contact with them. [17].

Three horrific plague pandemics swept across the globe before its cause was ultimately uncovered—the Plague of Justinian, which killed up to 10,000 people a day circa A.D. 561; the Black Death, which wiped out up to a third of Europeans between 1334 and 1372 and continued with intermittent outbreaks as late as 1879; and the Third Pandemic, which ravaged much of Asia between 1894 and 1959.

During that periods outbreaks of the bubonic plague—a pandemic that recurred in Europe for centuries—towns gripped by the disease hired plague doctors who practiced what passed for medicine on rich and poor residents alike. These physicians prescribed what were believed to be protective concoctions and plague antidotes, witnessed wills, and performed autopsies—and some did so while wearing beaked masks.

The plague doctors’ headgear was especially peculiar: according to de Lorme, they wore spectacles and a nose guard that was half a foot long, shaped like a beak, and filled with perfume. There were only two holes in the mask—one on each side close to the nostrils—but they were enough to allow air to pass through and convey the impression of the herbs that were enclosed farther along in the beak. ”.

But the forbidding ensemble was not just a deathly fashion statement: It was intended to protect the doctor from miasma. In the times before the germ theory of disease, physicians believed that the plague spread through poisoned air that could create an imbalance in a person’s humors, or bodily fluids. Sweet and pungent perfumes were thought to be able to fumigate plague-stricken areas and protect the smeller; nosegays, incense, and other perfumes were common in the era.

The doctors who treated plague patients in 17th-century Europe dressed in a manner that has since acquired a sinister connotation: they covered themselves from head to toe and wore a mask with a long beak that resembled a bird. A misperception regarding the nature of the deadly illness was the cause of the beaked plague masks.

History edit

Since political cartoons and satirical literature are the primary sources of most depictions of the costume, its precise origins are unknown. [18] Johannes Jacobi mentions the use of masks for plague doctors as early as 1373, but he provides no physical description of them. [19] The beaked plague doctor served as a symbol of universal terror and death in Italian theater, inspiring costumes. However, some historians maintain that the plague doctor was a fictional character who later served as an inspiration for the real plague doctors. [20] Superstition and anxiety over the plague’s unidentified source gave rise to images of the beaked plague doctor. [21] Since these physicians were frequently the last things patients saw before passing away, they were perceived as omens of impending death.

During a plague outbreak in Paris in 1619, a physician named Charles de Lorme wrote to King Louis XIII of France about the creation of an outfit consisting of Moroccan goat leather, which included boots, breeches, a long coat, a hat, and gloves. The outfit was modeled after a soldier’s canvas gown that extended from the neck to the ankle. [24][25][26] The clothing was impregnated using fragrant materials akin to those found in the mask. The nose of the mask, according to De Lorme, was “half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and to carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the drugs enclosed further along in the beak.” [28] Nevertheless, current studies have shown that significant cautions should be taken in relation to De Lormes’ claims. [29].


Why did doctors wear bird masks?

Plague doctors—who wore beaked masks containing aromatic substances, waxed coats, and gloves—were common during the bubonic plagues that struck Italy in the Renaissance period. But the forbidding ensemble was not just a deathly fashion statement: It was intended to protect the doctor from miasma.

What were the doctors with the crow masks called?

A plague doctor was a physician who treated victims of bubonic plague during epidemics mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries. These physicians were hired by cities to treat infected patients regardless of income, especially the poor, who could not afford to pay.

Did plague masks actually work?

Doctors believed the herbs would counter the “evil” smells of the plague and prevent them from becoming infected. Though these particular theories about the plague’s nature were incorrect, it is likely that the costume actually did afford the wearer some protection.

Were there female plague doctors?

Something that might surprise people is that during the Middle Ages, many female plague doctors worked to save patients. Although they weren’t as heavily politicized and talked about in history books, women doctors were an integral part of stopping the Black Plague from killing off a whole continent.