Those who refused to adapt to the pandemic reaped the consequences.
In September, a local bishop rebelled against health authorities by ordering evening prayers for nine days “in honour of St. Rocco, the patron saint of plague and pestilence, because the evil that had befallen Zamoranos was ‘due to our sins and ingratitude, for which the avenging arm of eternal justice has been brought down upon us,’ ” Spinney wrote.
On the first day, “he dispensed Holy Communion to a large crowd at the Church of San Esteban. At another church, the congregation was asked to adore relics of St. Rocco, which meant lining up to kiss them,” she wrote.
“Organised religion shaped the pandemic much more obviously then than now, and it was more likely to take precedence over public health,” Spinney told CNN via email. “In the pages of Zamora’s newspapers … a notice announcing an upcoming mass at one of the city’s churches was printed next to a warning to avoid crowds. Nobody seemed to notice the incompatibility of the two.”
A month later, Spinney notes in her book, the bishop wrote that science had proven itself ineffective and that people were beginning to “turn their eyes instead toward heaven.” People continued to attend gatherings in packed cathedrals and streets. When health officials tried to prohibit gatherings, the bishop accused them of interfering in church affairs.
By mid-November, Zamora had seen more illness and death than any other Spanish city. Although priests and parishioners lost their lives, Spinney wrote, the bishop praised those who had placated, in his words, “God’s legitimate anger” by attending services. The bishop’s followers didn’t hold him accountable but rather revered him, and he was awarded for his efforts and remained bishop for nearly a decade longer.
Two days after the service of singing, prayer and feasting, villagers became sick with the flu. Of the 80 local Eskimo villagers, 72 died and their bodies were left frozen in igloos. In one igloo, dogs had scavenged corpses.
“Another igloo looked at first like the site of utter devastation,” Kolata wrote. “And as…