Ramblings & ephemera

Self-sacrifice in plague time

From The Plague in Britain, on The Science Show:

Outside London, the disease spread wherever the plague flea travelled, and it is thought to have reached the village of Eyam in Derbyshire that September of 1665 in a box of tailor’s samples and old clothing sent to Edward Cooper, a village trader. … by mid-summer 1666 over seventy of the village’s 360 inhabitants had succumbed.

It was [Rev. William] Mompesson, a married man with two children, who took the step that made Eyam famous – he urged his congregation to follow Jesus’s words in the Gospel of St John: ‘Greater love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’. Rather than fleeing the village and spreading the infection around the Peak District, argued the young rector, the community should stick together and help their fellow-men. This, clearly, was to risk their own lives in an act of extraordinary self-sacrifice. The congregation agreed, and for more than a year Eyam became effectively a huge plague house, shut off from the world. Their neighbours, meanwhile, who included the Earl of Devonshire at nearby Chatsworth House, responded to their gesture by leaving food and other provisions at the outskirts of the village. Derbyshire was spared further plague, and Eyam paid the price, losing more than 260 inhabitants, some three-quarters of the population. Among the last to die was Mompesson’s wife Catherine, who had gone from house to house during the outbreak, ministering to the sick.

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