It was fortunate, perhaps, that the first widespread epidemic which threated Europe (after the plaque of Justinian) should have been leprosy. Whether this disease was actually Biblical leprosy in more than doubtful. It bore the same name, however; and this fact made it easier to carry over into thinking of a world dominated by the Bible the contagionistic viewpoint of the Old Testament. Indeed, this whole movement was of clerical, not of medical, origin. The theory came from the Book of Levicitus and the actual practices from the East.
Leprosy is said to have been brought by Pompey’s army from Egypt to Italy and to have reached Gaul as early as the second century. In the fourth century, the great Bishop Basil of Caesarea included isolation wards for lepers in his unique hospital establishment. It was in the sixth century, however, that Western Europe first felt itself seriously menaced by the spread of the disease from Egypt.
In the year 583, the free association of lepers with sound persons was restricted by the Council of Lyons, a procedure continued and elaborated by later Church councils. In the year 644, an edict of the Lombard’s King, Rothari, provided for the isolation of lepers. In the same century, Gregory of Tours describes a leper house in Paris.
Multiple methods existed to exclude the contagious from society. The ill were confined in their homes for the duration of their illness and, upon death, were passed through the windows and removed from the city. Lepers had to forbear communicating with the healthy; they wore special costumes, sound a clapper, and could not appear in markets, inns or taverns. Sanitary cordons were established along borders, whereby countries isolated themselves from their neighbors during periods of epidemic, leaving only special passages of egress.
- Amory Winslow C E (1971).The Conquest of Epidemic Disease: A Chapter in the History of Ideas
- Ogalthorpe Gostin Lawrence L (2000). Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint