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2016 Central Italy earthquake. Wrath of God, miracles,and other ‘medieval’ aspects of a 21st century seismic disaster


When an earthquake occurs in a densely populated area like central Italy, reactions are mainly focused on the recovery and assistance of victims, removal of debris, assessment of the damage, reactivation of infrastructures and public services.

As nowadays, these actions also constituted the core of post-disaster recoveryin the Middle Ages, when populations were far from passive when coping with natural disasters. In the medieval period, however, this phase was also accompanied by other aspects concerned with the religious interpretation of the seismic event. Among them, the perception of disasters as a divine punishment, the search for ‘scapegoats’ and the adoption of specific religious cult practices (for instance processions and flagellations) as mitigative strategies. Miracles or marvels were also recorded as noteworthy elements of a disaster by medieval societies.

Just to cite a few examples, earthquakes in 1202 (Syria), 1456 (Central Italy) and 1511 (Northeastern Italy and Slovenia) were interpreted by some commenters as…

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