Thursday, November 28, 2013

Stinky Ages

Before the Middle Ages, public baths were very common and the general public regularly took baths. Even during the 4th and 5th centuries, the church allowed people to bathe for cleanliness and health, but condemned going to public bath houses for pleasure and condemned women going to bath houses that had mixed facilities. Over time, more restrictions appeared until eventually, Christians were prohibited from bathing naked and the church began to disapprove the excessive indulgence of bathing. This culminated in the Medieval church proclaiming that public bathing led to immorality, promiscuous sex and diseases.

It was believed in many parts of Europe that water could carry disease into the body through the pores. It wasn't just diseases they were worried about, they also felt that with the pores widened after a bath, infections of the air had easier access to the body.

Lower class citizens, particularly men, did not bathe. People tended to just wash hands, parts of the face and rinsing their mouths. Washing the whole face was thought to cause catarrh and weaken the eyesight, so this was infrequent.

Members of the upper class on the other hand, just tended to cut down their full body bathing to a few times per year, striking a balance between risk of disease vs. body odour.

Not always though. Russians tended to bathe regularly, relatively speaking, at least once a month. Because of this, they were considered perverts by many Europeans. King Louis XIV is said to have only bathed twice in his lifetime. Queen Isabel I of Spain once confessed that she had taken a bath only twice in her lifetime, when she was first born and when she got married.

To get around the water/disease and sinful nature of bathing, aristocrats replaced bathing with scented rags to rub the body and heavy use of perfumes to mask their stench. Men wore small bags with fragrant herbs between the shirt and waistcoat, while women used fragrant powders.

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