Doctor's Casebook: A poignant Easter tale of self sacrifice to save many lives

It is Good Friday tomorrow, and after the fasting of Lent comes the feasting of Easter.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 4:45 pm
Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday

Traditionally this comes with the baking of hot cross buns.

The cross on them is symbolic of sacrifice. It is appropriate to have them on Good Friday, because Easter is about sacrifice and new beginnings.

Perhaps especially this year after all the sacrifices that everyone has had to make over the last 12 months.

Five years ago, almost to the day we went walking in the Peak District and visited the village of Eyam, which was preparing for the Easter celebrations. It is a village with a proud history of self-sacrifice.

In the summer of 1665 the village tailor’s assistant, George Viccars, received a bundle of damp cloth from their London supplier. As he was hanging it out to dry fleas jumped out from the cloth and bit him. He rapidly developed signs of the plague and died just a few days later.

He was the first victim of the deadly condition that the villagers knew was ravaging London.

The local vicar, the Reverend William Mompession, called for a public meeting at a nearby limestone gorge. Knowing how quickly the plague could spread he made three proposals to stop it spreading to the North of England.

First, he proposed that the village should quarantine itself, to contain the disease within the village.

Secondly, he proposed only holding church services outside in the open air, with each person standing 12 feet away from the next.

Thirdly, he suggested that there would be no formal organised burials in the cemetery.

Instead, family members should bury their own dead in their own gardens or fields.

The villagers accepted the proposals and visitors today can see the little enclosures about the village where entire smitten families are buried.

Halfway between the village and its neighbour stands The Coolstone, one of several plague stones that marked the boundary which neither villager nor outsider should cross.

It has a depression that was filled with vinegar into which money was left to pay for food and medicines left by outsiders.

Sadly over the next 14 months a total of 260 people died.

Yet their sacrifice probably saved many thousands.

This seems an apt tale that parallels the sacrifices of so many in today’s pandemic.