Penitent's belt, Europe, 1401-1700
The metal teeth attached to this leather belt are worn around the thigh as a type of penance. Penance in the form of prayers is carried out by some Christians in the hope of being forgiven for their sins. Christian belief during 1501-1800 taught that illness and disease were the result of sin. Penance was carried out by fasting and, in some cases, by inflicting physical harm on one’s self. At the time of the Black Death – and during later outbreaks of plague – groups of fanatical penitents would travel from town to town, beating themselves, wearing such spiked devices and flagellating their skin. These deeds were presented as acts of repentance for the world’s sins – the penitents believed God was punishing these sins by means of the plague.
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An acute contagious fever with high levels of mortality. Both the 'Black Death' that swept Europe in the 1340s and the Great Plague of London in 1665 are believed to have been bubonic plague.