Nordic and Central-European citizens, suffering from the cruel and endemic St Anthony's fire or ergot poisoning, made mass pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. Along the way, the pilgrims would ask the monks of St Anthony to alleviate the pains in their gangrened limbs by touching them with the tip of their tau-shaped staffs. The sick pilgrims were given small scapularies called Taus, in addition to bread and wine blessed by certain rituals using the abbot's staff (naturally tau-shaped). Pilgrims were also given, although less frequently, blessed bells of the saint, bearing the cross of St Anthony. In this way the disease gradually improved until, once at Santiago, they were completely cured. However, some years after returning to their country of origin, the disease would reappear (no doubt as a punishment for some new sin committed) and they would need to make a further pilgrimage to guarantee another infallible cure.
This confirms the miracle performing powers of the apostle in the West and those of the mysterious order of St Anthony.
Centuries after the disappearance of the Order of St Anthony, medical science has discovered that St Anthony's fire is in fact a vascular disease, which is now called ergotism and which is caused by the continuous ingestion of rye bread infected by the Claviceps purpurea fungus.
In this way, the inhabitants of the colder areas of Europe, who were regular consumers of rye bread, became ill as a result of the vasoconstriction produced by the fungus. When they changed their diet, during their walk through the southern regions of Europe, which are wheat producing areas and consumers of white bread, the pilgrims gradually became better.
From the book "Curiosidades del Camino de Santiago". by Juan Ramón Corpas Mauleon. Published by Edilesa