In modern works of art (books, films, and so on), the medieval European city seems to be a kind of fantasy place with elegant architecture and beautiful costumes, populated by handsome and pretty people. In reality, once in the Middle Ages, a modern person would be shocked by the abundance of dirt and the stifling smell of mud.
How Europeans stopped bathing
Historians believe that the love of bathing in Europe could disappear for two reasons: material – due to total deforestation, and spiritual – because of fanatical faith. Catholic Europe in the Middle Ages cared about the purity of the soul more than about the purity of the body.
Often, clergymen and simply deeply religious people took ascetic vows not to wash themselves – for example, Isabella of Castile did not wash for two years until the siege of the fortress of Granada ended.
In contemporaries, such a restriction caused only admiration. According to other sources, this Spanish Queen washed only twice in her life: after birth and before the wedding.
Baths did not enjoy such success in Europe as in Russia. During the times of the rampage of the Black Death, they were declared to be the culprits of the plague: the visitors put the clothes in one pile and the infectious peddlers crawled from one dress to another. Moreover, the water in the medieval terms was not very warm and after washing people often caught cold and became ill.
Note that the Renaissance did not greatly improve the hygiene situation. This is attributed to the development of the Reformation movement. Human flesh in itself, from the point of view of Catholicism, is sinful. And for Protestant Calvinists, man himself is incapable of a righteous life.
Touching themselves with the hands of the Catholic and Protestant clergymen did not recommend their flock, it was considered a sin. And, of course, bath and body washing indoors, were condemned by zealous fanatics.
Moreover, in the mid-15th century, it was possible to read in European treatises on medicine that “water baths warm the body, but weaken the body and expand the pores, so they can cause illness and even death.”
The negative reaction of the “enlightened” Dutch to the Russian Emperor Peter I’s love for bathing is a confirmation of hostility to the “excessive” purity of the body – the king bathed at least once a month, which shocked the Europeans pretty much.
Why in Medieval Europe did not wash?
Up to the 19th century, washing was perceived not only as an optional, but also harmful, dangerous procedure. In medical treatises, in theological manuals and ethical collections, washing, if not censured by the authors, was not mentioned. In the manual of courtesy of 1782, washing with water was even forbidden, because the skin of the face becomes more sensitive to cold in winter and to heat in summer.
All hygiene procedures were limited to rinsing the mouth and hands. The whole face wash was not accepted. The doctors of the 16th century wrote about this “pernicious practice”: in no case should you wash your face, since Qatar can happen or your eyesight may deteriorate.
Washing the face was also forbidden due to the fact that the holy water was washed away, with which the Christian touched during the sacrament of baptism (in the Protestant churches the sacrament of baptism is performed twice).
Many historians believe that because of this, the true Christians of Western Europe did not wash for years or did not know the water at all. But this is not quite true – most often people were baptized in childhood, so the version on the preservation of “baptismal water” does not hold water.
Another thing when it comes to monastics. Self-restraints and ascetic feats for black clergy are common practices for both Catholics and Orthodox. But in Russia, the limitations of the flesh were always associated with the moral character of man: overcoming lust, gluttony and other vices did not end on the material plane alone, long-term inner work was more important than external attributes.
In the West, the dirt and lice, which were called “God’s pearls”, were considered special signs of holiness. Medieval priests looked at physical purity with censure.
Goodbye unwashed Europe
Both written and archaeological sources confirm the version that in the Middle Ages hygiene was terrible. To have an adequate idea of that era, it is enough to recall the scene from the movie “The Thirteenth Warrior”, where the tub for washing goes in a circle, and the knights spit and blow their nose into the common water.
The article “Life in the 1500s” examined the etymology of various sayings. Its authors believe that thanks to such a dirty pelvis, the expression “not to throw out the baby with the water” appeared.