Abstract Title:

[Saint Anthony's Fire or gangrenous ergotism and its medieval iconography].

Abstract Source:

Hist Sci Med. 2010 Oct-Dec;44(4):373-82. PMID: 21598563

Abstract Author(s):

Jacques Battin


The frequent epidemics of ergotism were called Holy Fire or st-Antony's Fire in the Middle Ages, because of the burning sensations resulting in gangrene of limbs. It was caused by eating rye bread contaminated with the fungus Claviceps purpurea. The hospitable Order of st-Antony was founded near Vienne in France with 300 establishements in Europe until 1777. In coptic and byzantine art st-Antony is the father of the monks, whereas in Occident he is the the master of fire, thaumaturgic, resulting a very important iconography in statuary and painworks in all regions, especially in Lorraine, the catholic and tridentin Lotharingia and in Corsica thanks to the franciscan pastoral. Woodcuts show not only the temptations of st-Antony, with strange and diabolic scenes, patients with gangrenous limbs. Germanic woodcuts of the 15th century show patients with different stages of ergotism and hands and feet like ex-voto. Triptycs of H. Bosch and M. Gunewald are witnesses of the frequency and seriousness of this disease still at the beginning of the 16th century.

Study Type : Review
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