Certaldo, Italy - Giovanni Boccaccio Grave (Chiesa dei Santi Jacopo e Filippo); Leominster, MA - Joseph Palmer Grave (Evergreen Cemetery)
Giovanni Boccaccio is the author of the famous Decameron. He was born in 1313 in Certaldo or Florence, Italy; the exact location is unknown. He died December 21st, 1375. His gravestone is located inside the Church of Saints Jacob and Filippo in Certaldo, Italy. After the death of his father and stepmother due to the plague, Boccaccio began the composition of the Decameron. In the Decameron, Boccaccio focuses on numerous ideas throughout, but one specific idea is the focus on fortune and disability in Day 2, Story 1. Day 2, Story 1 is a story about a man named Martellino, who pretends to be visibly crippled in order to enter a heavily-packed church of a saint who has just deceased. Everyone makes a pathway for Martellino in order for him to be ‘healed’ by the saint for his disability, but someone in the crowd notices him and everyone starts to kick and fight him for lying about his disability.
Joseph Palmer was born in 1789 in a village between Leominster and Fitchburg, Massachusetts. He was persecuted at the age of forty because of his beard. Palmer died in 1873. This persecution made such an impact on his life and is so widely known that it is engraved on his gravestone. Boccaccio also has writing on his gravestone, which he composed himself before he died. Palmer was persecuted because in the year 1830 citizens went as far as attacking Palmer with razor blades outside of a hotel in an attempt to cut off his beard. Palmer defended himself, rightfully so, and was sent to Worcester County Jail. During this time period, beards were considered the mark of lunatics. It is interesting how going against the social norms and having a beard enraged people enough to attack him and try to cut off his beard. Palmer was also attacked while in jail and continuously defended himself; they placed him in solitary confinement numerous times. During the Medieval period, disability was sometimes something that needed correction or needed to be cured. It is also known for using the “religious model,” which replaces medicine with religion.
The connection Palmer and the character Martellino in the Decameron is how both were attacked due to not following social norms, but there are complex differences in their situations. In the Decameron, Martellino is only attacked because he lied about his disability; the civilians wanted Martellino to be healed. They wanted Martellino to be healed because it goes against the social norm during that time period of accepting someone who is a cripple. They relied on religion as medicine in order to change that. Their beliefs in this method were very strong, so the fact that someone would mock their beliefs and not respect the process they believed in was problematic. In Joseph Palmer’s case, not only was he considered to be a lunatic just because of his long facial hair, he was also accused of communing with the devil by his local preacher. It is interesting how hundreds of years later you can still be attacked for not following the social norms of the time period and how society takes action into their own hands in order to correct what they believe to be wrong, even authorities.
“Disability in the Medieval Period.” Rooted in Rights, www.rootedinrights.org/disability-in-the-medieval-period/.
“Joseph Palmer: The Eccentric War Veteran Who Was Sent to Jail for Wearing a Beard.” The Vintage News, 24 Nov. 2017, m.thevintagenews.com/2017/11/24/the-man-who-was-sent-to-jail-for-wearing-a-beard/.
Landrigan, Leslie. “Joseph Palmer Persecuted for Wearing a Beard.” New England Historical Society, 26 May 2017, www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/joseph-palmer-persecuted-wearing-beard/.
“Remembering One Hero's Fight Against Anti-Beardism.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 14 Apr. 2015, www.atlasobscura.com/places/grave-of-joseph-palmer.
Wheatley, Edward. "Cripping the Middle Ages, Medievalizing Disability Theory." Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind: Medieval Constructions of a Disability. University of Michigan Press, 2010. pp. 1-25, https://books.google.com/books?id=4Ofb5TWuJPoC&lpg=PR1&ots=rdboMV3bRw&dq=Stumbling+Blocks+Before+the+Blind+wheatley&lr=&pg=PR1&hl=en#v=twopage&q&f=false.
Madison Whitten, Student, Fitchburg State University