Regime dei Corpi by Aldobrandino da Siena, 14C. Often a wooden tub was brought to the bed-chamber & filled with hot water. When regular soaking tubs were used, the heavy curtains around them could be closed to produce a steam/vapor bath environment. The water was heated in the pots and then poured into the tubs.
In the 4 & 5C, the the leaders of the growing institution of the Christian Church such as Clement & Jerome condemned excessive attendance at the public baths, & attendance for pleasure. Because bathhouses had facilities serving both men & women together, church authorities condemned women's attendance at mixed gender bathhouses. Jerome, more strict than most, felt that female virgins should not bathe naked.
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 8161, f. 19r. Petrus de Ebulo, De balneis puteolanis. Naples, mid-14C
However, bathing was not forbidden: The 'Apostolic Constitutions,' an old manual originally compiled about the beginning of the 3C, looked upon the use of the bath as quite a manner of course, & only provide against certain abuses. The early Fathers, in general, had no objection to baths being used for cleanliness or health.
Bathing as a social ritual was quite popular; in fact, church regulations on bathing were designed to combat excessive indulgence in the habit. Bathing was more a matter of social mores than hygiene. Gregory the Great, the first monk to become pope, allowed Sunday baths & even commended them, so long as they didn't become a "time-wasting luxury." In the spring, bathing parties would move to outdoor pools & ornate basins, amid statuary & flowering trees.Memmo of Filippuccio, the mayor and his wife to the bathing room - fresco (not a manuscript) from the Palazzo Comunale di San Gimignano (Siena), 14C
Basic bath practices appear to have been the same in most of Northern & Eastern Europe: heat up rocks or a stove in an enclosed area, that is, the bathhouse. Apply water to the rocks to create steam. Sit on benches in the steam area, naked except for hats. When bathing in public or mixed groups, one might wear a light bathing costume (linen trunks for men or a shift for women, as in described in 15C Baden-Baden by Poggio Bracciolini). After or during sweating, cleanse the body with water from tubs or buckets, or plunge into a bath, river, or snow. German bathhouses sometimes included other amenities, such as soaking pools & areas for socializing, drinking & eating. Vapor baths (hot air or steam sweating, followed by washing or cold plunges) was the preferred method in Eastern & Central Europe. Steam baths in wooden bath houses in Russia are mentioned in the Russian Primary Chronicle of 1113: "They warm them to extreme heat, then undress, and, after anointing themselves with tallow, take young reeds & lash their bodies. They lash themselves so violently that they barely escape alive. Then they drench themselves with cold water & thus are revived."
Antithesis Christi et Antichristi (Jenský kodexJena Codex), Bohemia ca. 1490-1510 (Praha, Knihovna Národního muzea, IV.B.24, fol. 78v) Washing one's own body & the bodies of others seems to have been a function specifically ascribed to women, mistresses of water both at home & in the wilderness.
Bathing & grooming were regarded with suspicion by moralists, however, because they unveiled the attractions of the body. Bathing was said to be a prelude to sin, & in the penitential of Burchard of Worms is a full catalog of the sins that ensued when men & women bathed together. Burchard of Worms (c 950-65–1025) was the bishop of the City of Worms, in the Holy Roman Empire. He was the author of a canon law collection of 20 books known as the Decretum, Decretum Burchardi, or Decretorum libri viginti.
1470 A Bathhouse in Valerius Maximus’ Facta et Dicta Memorabilia (fol. 244) by Master of Anthony of Burgundy Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium by Valerio Massimo.
This miniature illumination of a bathhouse scene is a conflation of 2 passages from Book IX of Facta et dicta memorabilia (Memorable Deeds & Sayings) by the 1C Roman author, Valerius Maximus: the baths of Sergius Orata, & the leisure of Hannibal’s troops at Capua. Valerius Maximus presented both stories as examples of the vices of greed & luxury. One tale is of Sergius Orata was a Roman engineer who profited from his invention of thermal baths & reveled in his wealth. In a second story, Hannibal’s troops engaged in excessive eating, drinking, & fornication with prostitutes & thus became weak & lax warriors. The combination of the 2 narratives appears to have been a popular medieval invention & appears in at least 4 15C manuscripts from the Burgundian Netherlands & England. Anthony of Burgundy, the illegitimate son of Phillip the Good (duke of Burgundy as Philip III), commissioned this lavish manuscript from a prestigious Flemish painter known as the Master of Anthony of Burgundy. The illumination depicts a man in courtly garb & a king, perhaps Hannibal, observing debauchery in the baths. Nude men & women bathe & eat together, while 2 couples in the baths & a couple in an adjacent room kiss & fondle. A musician playing the lute & a dancing dog add to the overall rowdiness of the scene. The women wear elaborate veils & jeweled necklaces which lend further evidence to the idea that they probably are prostitutes. The Master of Anthony of Burgundy chose to place the scene of luxury in a contemporary Flemish bath house or brothel rather than an ancient Roman one. Brothels with adjacent bath houses & public bath houses that also offered illicit prostitution were common in the late Middle Ages in France, the Low Countries, & Germany. Although prostitution was illegal in public bath houses, proprietors often overlooked the law (Otis, 2009). In at least one instance, however, one proprietor in Nîmes obtained permission to run 2 bath houses, one with a brothel & one without. Bath house-brothels earned a reputation for vice & licentiousness. Gambling, theft, & drunkenness all appear as complaints in contemporary legal documents.
1400s A Bathhouse in Valerius Maximus’ Facta et Dicta Memorabilia (fol. 372) BNF, Paris. Here the bathing tubs are more refined, reduced to the size of a couple & furnished with a canopy.
Even though social brothel/bath houses flourished, washing at home continued to be a serious task. Shallow basins & water jugs for washing hair were found in most manor houses. "You shall finde it wonderfull expedient, if you bathe your head foure times in the yeare, and that with hot lee made of ashes. After which, you must cause one presently to poure two or three gallons of cold fountain water upon your head. Then let your head be dryed with cold towels. Which sodaine pouring downe of cold water, although it doth mightily terrifie you, yet nevertheles, it is very good, for therby the naturall heate is stirred within the body, baldnesse is kept backe, and the memory is quickened. In like manner, washing of hands often, doth much availe the eyesight." William Vaughan, Approved Directions for Health (1612). More about hair washing for women: "After leaving the bath, let her adorn her hair, and first of all let her wash it with a cleanser such as this. Take ashes of burnt vine, the chaff of barley nodes, and licorice wood (so that it may the more brightly shine), and sowbread... with this cleanser let the woman wash her head. After the washing, let her leave it to dry by itself, and her hair will be golden and shimmering... If the woman wishes to have long and black hair, take a green lizard and, having removed its head and tail, cook it in common oil. Anoint the head with this oil. It makes the hair long and black." The Trotula: A Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine. Ed. and trans. Monica H. Green (Philadelphia, 2001).
Balneum Tripergulae - from Angelic Code of De Balneis Puteolanis by Pietro da Eboli. The public baths of Pozzuoli, Italy. On the left, the undressing cabin; on the right, the collective swimming pool. Men & women bathe together. The waters are a place of cure & also of meeting. Manuscript of Eboli Stone.Lujuria Valerius Maximus, translated by Simon de Hesdin and Nicholas de Gonesse, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia. France, N. (Amiens or Hesdin), or Netherlands, S. 3rd quarter of the 15C
Miniature by the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book in Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia , commissioned by Jean Gros, c 1480. While mixed bathing was discouraged by the Church, records exist that baths were used as social affairs, with banquets & wedding feasts being joined with the baths. Certainly, the depictions of couples using the baths suggests that it was a social as well as sexual activity.
Horae ad usum Parisiensem. 1401-1500 Encadrements ou bordures
From 14C Boccaccio's the Decameron; "Without permitting anyone else to lay a hand on him, the lady herself washed Salabaetto all over with soap scented with musk and cloves. She then had herself washed and rubbed down by the slaves. This done, the slaves brought two fine and very white sheets, so scented with roses that they seemed like roses; the slaves wrapped Salabaetto in one and the lady in the other and then carried them both on their shoulders to the bed . . . They then took from the basket silver vases of great beauty, some of which were filled with rose water, some with orange water, some with jasmine water, and some with lemon water, which they sprinkled upon them. After which they refreshed themselves with boxes of sweetmeats and the finest wines."
Illuminated Manuscripts - Bath House BNF, Paris
Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, 3525, f.84v. Watriquet de Couvin, Dits. 14C.
Poggio Bracciolini, 15C Florentine, gives a detailed description of the refined habits of the thermal baths of Baden Baden, in Germany, in a letter to his friend Niccolo Niccoli: A vast internal square that occupies half of the place is surrounded by magnificent hotels where much people can comfortably stay for guests. Each house has its particular bathroom for those who live there. The bathrooms are in number thirty. Two of these totally open to serve the public washing of the common people of all ages and both sexes... It divides the males from the females a low fence, which is fitting for the people not the enemy. And 'interesting to observe together with the old decrepit, fresh maidens descend without nell'acque robe, and naked exposing himself to the profane gaze of men... The bathrooms in private houses are very clean: likewise in these males are separated from females only by means of a subtle division, with some low windows, from which Possoni see each other, talk, shake hands and drink together; all things that accadon commonly... Men do not wear a girdle. Women have certain linen blouses open at the sides, and that do not cover, or neck, or chest, or arms. Women often eat in the common expenses in the bathroom for a board that floats which are gladly accepted likewise men.
Biblioteca Nacional de España, Cod. Vitr. 24-3, detail of f. 10v. Libro de horas de Carlos V. Paris (workshop of Jean Poyer?), late 15th/early 16C.
Augustine, La Cité de Dieu (Vol. I). Translation from the Latin by Raoul de Presles. men and women at a meal, in bath, & an attached brothel-scene fol. 69v, c. 1475
Regulations governing the Guild of Bathhouse Keepers
(In Paris, around 1270, taken from Etienne de Boileu, Livre des métiers)Whoever wishes to be a bathhouse-keeper in the city of Paris may freely do so, provided he works according to the usage & customs of the trade, made by agreement of the commune, as follow...
Be it known that no man or woman may cry or have cried their baths until it is day, because of the dangers which can threaten those who rise at the cry to go to the baths...
No man or woman of the aforesaid trade may maintain in their houses or baths either prostitutes of the day or night, or lepers, or vagabonds, or other infamous people of the night...
No man or woman may heat up their baths on Sunday, or on a feast day which the commune of the city keeps.
And every person should pay, for a steam-bath, two deniers; & if he bathes, he should pay four deniers...
And because at some times wood & coal are more expensive than at others, if anyone suffers, a suitable price shall be set by the provost of Paris, through the discussion of the good people of the aforesaid trade, according to the situation of the times...
The male & female bathhouse-keepers have sworn & promised before us to uphold these things firmly & consistently, & not to go against them...
Anyone who infringes any of the above regulations of the aforesaid trade must make amends with ten Parisian sous, of which six go to the king, & the other four go to the masters who oversee the trade, for their pains...
The aforesaid trade shall have three good men of the trade, elected by us unanimously or by a majority, who shall swear before the provost of Paris or his representative that they will oversee the trade well & truly, & that they will make known to the provost of Paris or his representative all the infringements that they know of or discover, & the provost shall remove & change them as often as he wishes...
A crier patrolled the streets of 13C Paris to summon people to the heated steam-baths & bath-houses calling,
Gentlemen that you go to bathe,
to take a hot bath, without delay,
the baths are warm, there is no deception!These establishments, already numbering 26 in 1292 [Riolan, Curieuses Recherches, p. 219], & their guild, were a familiar feature of the town. They were common enough that employers would give a session in a steam-bath as a tip to artisans, domestic servants, or day-laborers. "To Jehan Petit, for him & his fellow valets of the bedchamber, which the queen gave him on New Year's Day to visit the steam-baths: 108s." Baths were taken in a room, often separate, crammed with heavy round iron-bound bathtubs. There were, for example, 6 bathtubs at Saint-Vivien in 1380, with 3 beds & sets of bedding. [C. de Beaurepaire, Noveaux Melanges historiques, Paris, 1904, p. 94] . . . The surroundings in the 15C minature of Valerius Maximus are plusher, with sumptuous table-covers, wall-hangings & a tiled floor.[Valerius Maxiumus, 'Faits et Dits memorables' 15C) Paris, BN, ms.fr., 289; fol 414]
Illuminated Manuscripts - Bathing Manuscrit Valère Maxime [Valerius Maximus], Faits et dits mémorables [Facta et dicta memorabilia], traduit par Simon de Hesdin et Nicolas de Gonesse, édité vers 1400-1425 BNF, Paris. Public Baths - Couples, after feasting around a table, sitting in an enormous community vat filled with water, head for the bedrooms. Prostitution, despite the many edicts that forbade it, was one of the causes of the gradual disappearance of the public baths. The terrifying plagues were another cause of their decline.
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