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Articles: Medieval Europe
Black Death mass burial discovered in Sant Just i Pastor, Barcelona. Photo: El Pais.
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by Archaeology Newsroom

Black Death Basilica

First known Spanish plague victims mass grave unearthed

Black Death Basilica has proved to be the church of Sant Just i Pastor in Barcelona as mass grave of 120 medieval plague victims has been found there.

As El Pais newspaper reports, the bodies were found interred under the sacristy of the Basilica, which is located in the heart of the leading Catalonian city’d Gothic Quarter. According to the news report, the bodies were found lined up carefully in rows (11 bodies deep) within their burial space, each one of them having been wrapped in linen shrouds. Funerary details such as the actual burial in a sacristy and the fact that the burial had been covered with quicklime dissolved in water (in order to stop the disease spreading and mask the smell of the rotting bodies) suggest that the mass grave was connected to the Black Death. DNA tests on the teeth of several bodies from the mass grave carried out by the University of Tübingen made the connection clear as it showed the presence of Yersinia pestis, the Black Death bacterium. The bacterium is associated with rats and other rodents that was transmitted by the parasites they carried, particularly fleas, through bites.

Archaeologists, excavating the site since 2012 have not been able to uncover the whole grave, as part of it was dug up following the Basilica’s expansion in the mid 15th c. Still, they believe that its original dimensions were 3.5 X 4.00 X 1.5 m.

The Black Death is believed to having reduced the population of Spain from 6 to 2 million, while Barcelona itself had been hit by five such epidemics, between 1348 and 1375. While there is written evidence on the attempts of the authorities of the time to stop its advance, this is the first time archaeological evidence comes to light. In addition, the find suggests that while in other European cities the victims were buried in new cemeteries, in Barcelona churches provided space for such burials.

NOTES