Addressing Our Biases: Medieval Bathing

Did medieval people bathe?

If you already believe that the middle ages was “The Dark Ages” (a bit of very successful propaganda created by Protestant intellectuals in order to distance their own accomplishments from the Catholic roots of the Renaissance) then you are likely to perpetuate the myth that everything about life “back in the day” was nasty and alien, rather than seeing all of human culture — especially our own — as a continuum of narratives competing for dominance and worthy of careful study and critique.

Medieval illustration of two people in curtained, barrel-like baths.Now on the one hand we can see this as a historical quibble. After all it’s not like I don’t have a history of getting big mad about someone incorrectly relating to the medieval period. But here’s the thing, allowing myths like this to perpetuate allows us to keep upholding harmful ideas about the medieval period that furthers our colonialist ideas about history, and simultaneously allows us to gloss over all the harmful and gross stuff that we as modern people do. If we always blame medieval people for everything difficult it allows us to deny their humanity and write off a thousand years of thinking and culture that still influences us now. —Eleanor Janega, “Going Medieveal”