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‘Charite’: Historian shares insights on impact of the Black Death on English village in 1348


My neighbors, Bob and Jack Kirkby-Palmer, recently shared an interesting column from the magazine BBC History with a rather morbid headline, “The Black Death.”

It isn’t a morbid column. It’s a column of hope and is something well worth reading during our own COVID-19 pandemic.

The columnist is Michael Wood. He’s a professor of public history at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and he shared the story of the Black Death upon the inhabitants of Kibworth in Leicestershire in the middle of England.

The Black Death or the Black Plague is one of the world’s great pandemics. It took place from 1346-1353 and killed 75-200 million people. Many thought the world might end.

These were hard times in England, Wood points out. The Great Famine of 1314-18 had killed 10 percent of England’s population. The climate changed too with the Little Ice Age starting in 1303 and ending in 1860.

Wood adds that many pandemics are “preceded by extreme weather events and natural disasters.”

It’s estimated that the Black Death consumed half of England’s population. Kibworth felt the sting as well losing two-thirds of its inhabitants, the highest mortality rate in England. The town’s vicar, John Sibil died. He was in charge of giving last rites, organizing help and caring for the most vulnerable.

Being a care worker in a pandemic is a dangerous job, as we know all too well today.

Many in the community fell behind in paying their rent. And, the loss of loved ones must have been excruciating.

What Moore finds interesting is how the community responded at a time of great loss. Two farmers put a house and land into a trust. This essentially, according to Moore, made it possible to “pay for someone to try to alleviate the psychological trauma and the economic fallout of the epidemic. . .to remember their dead and distribute food to those in need.”

This idea of charity continued in Kibworth. Enough land had been gifted for the community to endow a “free school for the godly purpose of the good bringing up of one’s own, and other men’s children.”

That land continues to support the Kibworth students today.

Moore adds, “The lessons of the Black Death in Kibworth, then, are that life went on, and that people rebuilt the economy on which they depended. But no one forgot there that everything rested on communal cooperation, kindness and solidarity. It was no accident that in the aftermath, in nearby Lutterworth, John Wycliffe composed his vernacular version of the New Testament, including one of the most enduring passages in the English language: ‘Now dwellen feith, hope, and charite, these thre; but the most of thes is charite.’”

You can find the column at bit.ly/3lAUNNZ.

Many acts of charity could be found in Galena during the 1918 flu pandemic.

According to The Galena Daily Gazette, “Families of four to six members are all down with the ‘flu’ and neighbors and friends are afraid to come to their assistance. There is great need of a strong organization quickly to go to the relief of those unfortunates, many of whom are poor and unprepared to fight any trouble.”

The Rev. Jerome R. McGlade, Westminster Presbyterian Church pastor, sought help from a higher authority to remove the plague from the community’s midst. He also asked the congregation to “lend what aid it can toward relief of any in distress,” according to The Gazette.

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Volunteers helped the Red Cross swing into action in November 1918 by converting the YMCA Building, 114 S. Main St., into a hospital.

The Gazette also reported that the Red Cross also put out a call for “any woman in the city who can go to a sick home and render any assistance whatever. . .It seems that if the public could only understand the dreadful conditions which exist in so many homes where the entire family is down with this terrible disease that this appeal for help would receive ready response. Your help for a few hours each day may save some lives.”

Many set fear aside and joined front-line care workers to comfort the afflicted.

There have been many acts of charity here and other places in this world in the grip of COVID-19. It is my hope that during the next few months as the divisions among us are exploited, we can truly appreciate how this pandemic has brought us together and the positive role charity plays in our lives.



The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our community this year. Our big summer and fall events have been cancelled.

But this didn’t stop the Galena Kiwanis Club and Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society from thinking outside the box.

The Kiwanis Club hosts Galena’s annual July 4 parade, after-parade activities along with fireworks. This year’s events were cancelled, but Kiwanis members wanted to give something to the community and have rescheduled the fireworks for Sunday, Sept. 6, at dusk.

This year’s fireworks are made possible by the dedication of many, the support of the city of Galena and donations–charity–from many businesses and individuals.

The following weekend is the Galena Virtual Family Fitness Weekend sponsored by the historical society and Galena GOATS Cycling.

Individuals and families are encouraged to visit the event’s registration site, bit.ly/3kvOwmw, register and make a donation to the museum and then, on the weekend of Sept. 12-13, engage in physical activity of your choice.

This event not only supports the historical society, but it also supports area emergency service organizations.

Best yet, volunteers have lined up a lot of wonderful door prizes. Anyone who registers and makes a donation is eligible for a door prize.

Supporting this event is an act of “charite.” It’s also an opportunity. . .or even a good excuse...to get outside, get some exercise. . .all socially distanced, of course.

Have a great Labor Day holiday, everyone. We’ll be putting next week’s paper together on Friday so we’ll have early deadlines this week. The office will also be closed during the three-day holiday.

P. Carter Newton, publisher