Bathing as a Treatment
From pilgrimage to prescription
In the 16th century people strongly affiliated with Christianity and the peak of its hierarchy strongly disagreed with the practice of swimming in cold water, whilst many people believed it was a practice associated with healing. Later on, it was adopted by the Protestants to fit their new model of faith. The belief in holy springs in Denmark, was abolished by the monarchy around the year of 1570, which was completely ignored, so they turned to emphasise that the healing powers of the springs were bestowed upon by non-other than God himself and of some heretic provenance.
This movement acted as a spark for the popularization of spa towns in Protestant Germany and England during the 17th and 18th century.
As mentioned previously, it was popular belief between certain groups of people that the cold springs had healing capabilities and were able to treat some conditions, such as nightmares, leprosy, plague, rickets, inflammation of the eyes, ‘female complaints’, hysteria, gout, constipation, blows to the head, numbness, bronchitis, cancer, and flatulence.
Insane treatment for the insane
On one hand, there were luxurious and enjoyable spas but on the other side, there was the medicinal use of bathing in madhouses, which consisted of plunging the patient in cold water, as well as making them vomit and even restraints were used along with the water with the attempt to ‘heal’. One example of this practice was ‘the surprise’, which consisted of locking a person inside a coffin with holes drilled in the lid and after a certain amount of time, dropping it into cold water. Later on, in the 18th century, the treatments began to slowly cease, all because of what is known as ‘moral management.
Prescribed by a doctor
Every illness is different so of course, different kinds of treatments will be prescribed, same goes for which types of bathing was appointed to a patient. The kinds of prescriptions could range from only submerging a leg or a foot, to a full body bathing. It could also be divided into fresh water bathing and sea water bathing. It could be cold, warm or tepid.
In the 19th century, the use of bathing as a treatment slowly started ceasing to exist and war replaced by the heightened emphasis on public health. Practices such as hand washing, cleaning the home and general sanitation were carried out at an exponentially higher rate.
An omission to this movement was the hydropathy movement which was part of a succession of treatments invented in the 19th century and became known as ‘alternative medicine’, which included chiropractic, homeopathy and osteopathy as well. The act of soaking bandages in cold water before application, the act of which was believed to be able to cure broken bones, was invented by an illiterate Austrian farmer. Later on, it started a movement that provided with setting up treatment resort, patients of which were even world-famous people, such Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin.