Filthy Christians

After 4th century and the destruction of Classical World, ecclesiastical censorship and the suppression of Western scientific and technical knowledge facilitated the spread and transmission of diseases throughout Europe. This worked in conjunction with the Christian denigration of the human body as a vehicle for sin. Human sexuality, for example, was considered a necessary evil, to be avoided, except for procreation in marriage.

In Ancient Pagan Europe, public baths were very common, as was the general public regularly taking time to bathe in one way or another. In classical Greece, bathing was considered a completion of athletic activity: it had to be taken with cold water and quickly, to give energy more than solace. In archaic times, the Romans used to wash their arms and legs every morning; every nine days, during market day, they washed the rest of their bodies. Due to Oriental influence, for the Greeks - but even more often for the Romans - the bath took on mainly purposes of relaxation, solace and physical well-being. The steam bath and the sweat bath were introduced: these gave a sensation of wellness and pleasure that explains their extraordinary success.

In "Christian Europe", hygiene practices changed drastically. Although it was very close, the Church did not officially prohibit personal hygiene, but began to disapprove of an "excessive" indulgence in the habit of bathing. With the victory of Christian terror, cleanliness and hygiene were suspect because concern for the body was seen as an obstacle to salvation. The Church condemned the public bath as "sensual", "mundane", "immoral" and "sinful". Christianity condemned the way of conceiving those pleasures of the body which, in Greek-Roman antiquity, were considered positive values, even to the point of seeing them as "degenerated sexual acts". The medieval ecclesiastical authorities proclaimed that the public bath "led to immorality, promiscuous sex and diseases" and encouraged the closure of the baths that had contributed so much to preserve public health in the great cities of the Roman world. The Christians of the time avoided bathing specifically because they considered frequent cleansing as a sign of vanity, which was a "sin". Thus the infamous smelliness of the medieval period began. People bathed and changed clothes, at most, twice a year: one in the fall and another in the spring, coinciding with the arrival of cold or heat, the time to change clothes for a fresher or more warm according to the case. The Church in Spain, for example, regularly encouraged believers to avoid bathing to better distinguish themselves from the hated Moors and Jews.

St. Jerome once said:
"He who has bathed in Christ has no need of a second bath."
This axiom was taken seriously by Christian ascetics. They practiced the ritual mortification of the flesh by refusing to wash their bodies. They wore the same garments every day until they were reduced to rags. The stench that was produced was known by Christians as alousia or the "odor of sanctity". Saints like Agnes and Margaret of Hungary were venerated by Christians because of their rejection of physical hygiene. In the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia, only those monks who were sick and infirm were allowed to bathe. Monks in good health and the young were encouraged to wallow in their own filth and excrement. The Rule of St. Benedict was the most influential in the history of Western monasticism, it was embraced by thousands of medieval religious communities as a foundational monastic text.

This unpleasant Christian habit of not bathing eventually led to the Black Death, the most devastating pandemic in the history of mankind, resulting in the death of between 75 and 200 million people and peaking in Europe between 1346 and 1353. The damages of this disease were always significantly higher in the regions and among the populations where Christianity became the dominant religion. For example, although the plague reduced the population of the Muslim world by one third, it was even lower than the two thirds estimated for Europe. These macro-regional differences in mortality are also reflected in much smaller geographic scales. England under the Plantagenet lost one-half of its population to plague, whereas Mamluk Egypt lost only one third. Differences in physical cleanliness between entire geographic regions and whole populations mitigated or exacerbated the ravages of bubonic plague. Among populations, Jews had even lower death rates than Christians. The apparent immunity of the Jews to the disease aroused the suspicions of their Christian contemporaries who accused them of poisoning the wells and were persecuted as a result, under absolutely false causes.

The Christians who ruled Europe let the great network of public baths once owned by the Empire, including the aqueducts that provided them with water, fall into a state of permanent decay. The fall of the Roman Empire and the decline of works aimed at improving the city's water supply caused a crisis in the use of the thermal baths. The fields were emptied and in the cities, the habits like the breeding of domestic animals, of chickens, geese and pigs, clashed with the most elementary hygienic norms. Clothes were washed in the waters of rivers, where waste was often unloaded, animal carcasses were found, as well as dirty liquids from tanneries and dry cleaners. The walls that surround the medieval cities limit their development and force their inhabitants to live in increasingly reduced spaces. The streets, narrow and winding, unpaved until the 12th-14th centuries, are often invaded by mud and debris.

The ideological crisis that deeply affected the Greek-Latin civilization was favored by the philosophers of the late classical period and by religions , mainly of oriental origin, which fostered an attitude of passive resistance to earthly adversities and detachment from physical life. So much so that spread the practice of Christian emasculation, as a method of salvation. All this contributed, on the one hand, to the dissemination of the idea that the body is the enemy of the spirit and, on the other, to the birth of a certain skepticism regarding the usefulness of the study of nature and scientific knowledge. Even medicine lost credibility and a conviction was born that the disease can be overcome by resorting to divinity through prayer instead of resorting to doctors and medicines. The victory of the religious fanatics signaled the imminent closing of the secular study academies and with it, the end of the formal formation of the doctors. Any residual knowledge of ancient medical wisdom, transmitted by practitioners, was condemned as "sorcery" or "witchcraft" and this censorship extended to attacks on herbal remedies. Instead of looking for the natural causes of the disease, as the Hippocratic writers once did, the official doctrine of the Church discouraged the practice of medicine by attributing all bodily ailments to the results of sin and diabolical possession. This delayed progress in the healing arts left Europe at the mercy of the disease for hundreds of years.