Instrument for dispensing sacraments to plague victims, 16th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Copy of an instrument used by priests to dispense sacraments to people suffering from the plague. It was very long in order to avoid physical contact with the afflicted. Regular outbreaks of bubonic plague, a disease transmitted from rats to people by fleas, occurred in Medieval times and continued until the 17th century. The most notable plague outbreak was the Black Death of the 14th century, which originated in China, and is estimated to have killed a third of the population of Europe.