The Terrifying Beaked Plague Mask Of Historical Europe

plague mask

The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice on the disturbing origins of raven-nosed masks, which were worn by so-called “plague doctors” during times of mass death in Early Modern Europe:

The earliest textual description of the mask dates from the 17th century. Charles de Lorme, chief physician to Louis XIII and likely inventor behind the design, wrote:

The nose [is] half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with one [hole] on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and carry along the impression of the [herbs] enclosed further along in the beak.

A coherent germ theory did not emerge until the mid-19th century – de Lorme was trying to protect himself miasma, or poisonous vapours associated with decomposition and foul air.

It is difficult to know how ubiquitous the plague mask was in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most physicians fled the city during outbreaks, leaving the dying to fend for themselves.

  • trompe l’oiel

    I wear a plague doctor mask, therefore, I love this article.

  • Damien Quinn

    Even if the logic behind the outfit was totally misguided, covering yourself from head to foot in goat leather was probably a fairly effective defense against a plague transmitted by fleas.

  • Jane

    The ghost of a Plague Doctor visits me from time to time. I don’t find him terrifying at all.

  • Farzan1World

    Well, now it is widely used in or weekly sadomasochism get-together.