Christian Care “Replaced Roman Hygiene with Frequent Prayers and Infrequent Baths”

Hager discusses the medical practices of Paris’ Hôtel Dieu lying-in maternity hospital in the 17th century, that led to widespread, and often fatal, childbed fever:

(p. 114) Every day the senior doctors would arrive on their rounds followed closely by a gaggle of students. They would pull the women’s covers down, pass hands over their abdomens, point, prod, and discuss. Although the physicians’ wigs were carefully powdered, their hands were generally unwashed. Christian care, which emphasized purity of the soul over that of the body, had replaced Roman hygiene with frequent prayers and infrequent baths. In Paris the privies and slaughterhouses (as well as the hospital wards of the Hôtel Dieu) dumped their waste into the Seine, then drew drinking and washing water from the same source. Bedding was washed infrequently. Lice and fleas abounded.

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

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