In 1348 London, people looked to mainland Europe with dread. The Black Death was sweeping in from the Continent, leaving panic and death in its wake. “The wife fled the embrace of a dear husband, the father that of a son, and the brother that of a brother,” according to one Italian account. “Those burying, carrying, seeing or touching the infected often died suddenly themselves.”
Just as health officials today are reacting to the spread of a new strain of coronavirus, the medieval city of London prepared for the plague’s impact more than 600 years ago. Historical documents show that the city leased land for emergency graveyards, digging long trenches for mass burials in advance of epidemics.