Here’s Why Those Creepy, Long-Beaked Doctor Masks Were Created In The First Place
If you think health officials have struggles with diagnosing, treating, and containing infectious diseases in the modern world, but those trials are nothing compared to what physicians dealt with before the invention of the microscope.
There were people in the scientific community who believed that “bad air” made people sick, but until germ theories could be proven, they were just working on assumptions.
Some medieval doctors (and perhaps earlier) chose to wear masks stuffed with dried flowers, herbs, and spices – masks that often had long, bird-like beaks – just in case. The herbs and spices were both to make breathing the sickly air less awful and less potentially infectious.
There is also a long history of belief that certain herbs are medicinal.
That said, the first concrete evidence we have of them being worn, particularly with the beaks was in the 16th century – long after the Black Death ravaged Europe, Asia, and the Middle East in the 14th Century.
Dr. de Lorme (1584-1678) was Louis XIII’s chief physician and is officially credited with the strange and creepy mask design. He also designed an accompanying suit, consisting of a leather overcoat, breeches, a cane, a wide-brimmed hat, gloves, and boots.
This is all according to an early text description from Encyclopedia of Infectious Diseases: Modern Methodologies:
The nose [is] half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the [herbs] enclosed further along in the beak.
Under the coat we wear boots made in Moroccan leather (goat leather) from the front of the breeches in smooth skin that are attached to said boots, and a short sleeved blouse in smooth skin, the bottom of which is tucked into the breeches.
The hat and gloves are also made of the same skin … with spectacles over the eyes.
The ensemble was designed to protect the skin from exposure, except for the hat, which was simple a common accessory worn by physicians of the time. The wooden cane was used to measure what was considered to be a safe distance from critically ill patients.
So, even though just a few doctors of yore did wear those masks when treating patients, they did not originate during the Black Plague.
But to be fair, the masks are super creepy, no matter when they were worn. I doubt they did anything to inspire trust or love for doctors (which probably wasn’t very high to begin with).
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