Here’s Why These Creepy, Long-Beaked Doctor Masks Were Created In The First Place » TwistedSifter
If you think health officials are struggling to diagnose, treat and contain infectious diseases in the modern world, but these tests are nothing compared to what doctors were dealing with before the invention of the microscope.
There were people in the scientific community who believed that “bad air” made people sick, but until the germ theories could be proven, they were only working on hypotheses.
Some medieval (and possibly earlier) physicians chose to wear masks filled with dried flowers, herbs and spices – masks that often had long bird beaks – just in case. The herbs and spices were to both make breathing the sickly air less gruesome and less potentially infectious.
There is also a long history of belief that certain herbs are medicinal.
That said, the earliest concrete evidence we have of them being worn, especially with beaks, dates back to 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 bizarre and creepy design of the mask. He also designed an accompanying costume, consisting of a leather overcoat, breeches, cane, wide-brimmed hat, gloves, and boots.
All this conforms to an early textual description in the 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 this may be enough to breathe in and take away with the air one breathes in the impression of the [herbs] further enclosed in the beak.
Under the coat, ankle boots made of Moroccan leather (goat leather) are worn from the front of the smooth skin breeches which attach to said boots, and a short-sleeved blouse in smooth skin whose bottom is tucked into the breeches .
The hat and gloves are also made of the same skin…with goggles over the eyes.
The set was designed to protect the skin from exposure, with the exception of the hat, which was just a common accessory worn by doctors of the time. The wooden cane was used to measure what was considered a safe distance from seriously ill patients.
Thus, even if only a few physicians of old did wear these masks when treating patients, they did not appear during the Black Death.
But to be fair, the masks are super scary no matter when they were worn. I doubt they did anything to inspire trust or love from doctors (which probably wasn’t very high to begin with).