medieval higiene 2 - Bathing in the Middle Ages

Bathing in the Middle Ages

The generalized conception is that in the Middle Ages the people did not take baths and they lived in a state of complete dirt, nevertheless, it seems that at least in part, this is a myth.

Historians point out that during most of this time there existed (at least in the cities) a positive attitude towards the bath, which was granted therapeutic virtues, although not as much as it did in the glory days of imperial Rome and its great thermal baths. The public baths flourished in the great European cities in the thirteenth century, and by the fifteenth century, they were something normal in medium towns. Unlike the elaborate facilities of the Roman or Arab baths with large common pools of different temperatures, the medieval baths used wooden jugs with hot water in which two or three people could fit.

In fact, many of the medieval surviving illustrations in our day show people taking communal baths. The bath was also an important part of the rituals of medieval knights. For his appointment, the candidate had to bathe before spending the night in prayer, in order to be physically and spiritually purified before becoming a knight.

medieval baths - Bathing in the Middle Ages

The attitude of the church towards the bathroom was not positive; it condemned it since it saw it as an unnecessary and sinful luxury. Scholars also point out that this attitude comes partly from early Christians, where ascetics and hermits avoided bathing as a mode of self-flagellation. It is likely that from religious documents condemning the bathroom is the source of the current conception that people of the Middle Ages did not bathe.

It seems that the healthy habit of bathing has come down from the hand of the great medieval epidemics when it is thought that water is the culprit of contagion between bodies. Then begins the bath time “dry”, restricting the use of water to hands and face.


Human urine in the Middle Ages had many uses. This was collected in pots (arranged in the streets and on the landing of the stairs) and was used in laundries (because of its high content of ammonia). The whiteness of the wool and the linens of senators, emperors, kings, nobles, and knights came from the urine of the poor, the serfs, and the peasants.

Urine was also used for oral hygiene: Europeans at that time washed their mouths with their own urine. Bathhouses used to pour their debris into pits or black wells, which were often located next to drinking water, which greatly increased the risk of disease.

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