In the Middle Ages, France tortured and burned those infected with this disease

In the Middle Ages, people with leprosy were treated harshly because of false beliefs that classified leprosy as a highly contagious disease. During that period, cities and villages did not hesitate to expel and banish people with leprosy, who often moved to live in their own communities and relied on the aid provided by benefactors to meet their needs.

In the fourteenth century, leprosy patients lived a few decades before the emergence of the Black Plague, on the impact of a systematic security campaign that targeted them after rumors emerged about their knowledge and communication with Jews and Muslims.

Rumors and arrest campaign

During the spring of 1321, rumors spread in southern France that lepers had poisoned water wells with their own powders and poisons. These rumors struck terror in the hearts of the inhabitants of the south of France, who did not hesitate, with the help of the authorities, to pursue and arrest those affected by leprosy. Under torture, confessions were extracted from the lepers, stating that they had dealt with the Jews who were receiving orders from the Muslims residing in Andalusia to carry out a plan of extermination against Christians throughout Europe.

A painting depicting the process of burning a number of lepers

During the month of May 1321, violence against lepers increased throughout France, following statements made by Johan de Bosco. Under torture, this leprosy confessed his participation in a conspiracy before heading to the leprosy village where he lived to bring with him a bag of strange powder.

On the other hand, those responsible for the investigation into the well poisoning case spoke of a secret meeting held by a number of leprosy community leaders in France to implement the demands of the Muslim leaders in Granada who called on them to start a campaign of extermination against the Christians of Europe.

In the following months, the violence spread to the Jews living in France, as they were accused of transmitting secret messages between Granada officials and lepers.

Clearance and compensation

Hearing news of a campaign against leprosy, French King Philip V found himself faced with two bad choices. If he supports these actions, his country will witness an unprecedented wave of violence during a bad period in France’s history. And in the event that he condemns it, many French people will continue to hunt leprosy patients in clear defiance of his authority, which may harm the position of the King of France on the European scene.

Faced with this situation, Philip V issued a decree ordering the arrest and imprisonment of all leprosy patients in preparation for their appearance before the investigators. Moreover, the French king demanded that every leper who might be found guilty of the crimes of poisoning wells should be burned.

Fearing the oppression of the French authorities, a large number of people with leprosy tried to flee to neighboring countries. With the spread of rumors of poisoning wells in many parts of Europe, these countries tended to arrest fleeing leprosy patients before returning them to France.

In the years following the death of King Philip V, these rumors of poisoning the wells lost their luster as the French were convinced that there was no conspiracy against them. Thanks to this, the pursuit of leprosy patients, many of whom spent long periods in prisons, bearing the brunt of torture, stopped.

In the mid-1430s, lepers begged Pope Benedict XII for the return of their property that had been taken from them during the period of the conspiracy. During the year 1338, the Pope issued a reply in which he called for the need to provide compensation to leprosy patients after their innocence was proven.

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