There are many unsolved mysteries that exist across the globe, some of which strike fear into the heart of the masses, but not all mysteries are scary. Some of them are just downright bizarre and baffling, making us stop and wonder what was actually going on. The Dancing Plague of 1518 is one of those mysteries, which has puzzled historians and physicians everywhere since that fateful year.
The story is told that it all began with one woman, named Frau Troffea, in a small village in France close to the border of Germany. According to all historical records, she simply walked out into the streets of Strasbourg one day in mid July and began to dance without accompaniment of any kind. She was the only one, but not for long. After only a couple days Madame Troffea was joined by other dancers, and in a week’s time, over a hundred other members of the community were dancing with her!
This might seem like an odd but silly thing for people to do, but what truly makes it a mystery is that all of these people were dancing against their will. By the end of August, over 400 people had joined in the involuntary dance party in the streets. Local authorities were unwittingly making things worse by encouraging the dancing, thinking that the only way to cure the dancers was to dance out the “hot blood” they thought to suffer from.
When people started dying from exhaustion and weak hearts, those same authorities started rethinking their decision, and eventually decided that they were cursed by a locally revered saint, Saint Vitus, who was reputed to cast dancing curses. The afflicted citizens were loaded up onto wagons and sent up to a temple in the mountains to be “healed.”
There are several other noted occasions of “dancing plague” that happened in previous centuries, but none were as large or as well documented as the Strasbourg plage, which was also the last one to strike in Europe. Extensive research has been done on what started and perpetuated this bizarre event in history, but nobody can actually pin down what really happened despite excellent records from various sources.
Was it ergot poisoning from rye bread sold at the community bakery? Mass hysteria due to the psychological stress of poverty, illness, and natural disasters that was pandemic in the country at the time? Religious trance states that roped in the susceptible minds of those who were particularly devout? Most experts are on board with mass hysteria and religious trances, but nobody will ever really be able to say with 100% certainty.
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