St. Anthony's Fire


St. Anthony's Fire (SAF) is an illness brought on by the ingestion of fungus-contaminated rye grain causing ergot poisoning (ergotism). The disease's common name derives from the medieval Benedictine monks dedicated to that saint who offered treatment to sufferer's, sometimes using relics of the saint to do so. The 'fire' element is in reference to the burning sensation sufferers of the disease often feel in the extremities of the body. SAF is less well-known than the Black Death plague but was constantly present throughout the Middle Ages. No figures are available to indicate the number of people who may have died from SAF although in one incident alone, an outbreak in France in 994 CE, the illness caused 20,000-40,000 deaths throughout the country. SAF, with its frequent symptoms of gangrene, convulsions, sores and even hallucinations, plagued medieval society, contributing to the oftentimes miserable existence for many people.

More about: St. Anthony's Fire


  • 251 CE - 356 CE
    Life of Saint Anthony (Anthony the Great).
  • 994 CE
    An outbreak of St Anthony's Fire (ergotism) causes 20,000-40,000 deaths in France.
  • 1100 CE
    The Order of Hospitallers of St. Anthony is established in Grenoble, France.
  • 1596 CE
    The German physician Wendelin Thelius connects the ergot fungus to the rye grain, cause of St Anthony's Fire.