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Facts About Living in the 1500s: Hygiene and Burial Custom
Posted In: Information and Theories  12/12/09
By: Yona Williams

The 1500's was a century marked by many changes in religious thought, art, and traditions. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa at this time. The Spanish set foot in the Gulf of Mexico. Starting in 1517, the Protestant Reformation brought the European Christian reform movement. In this article, you will encounter a variety of customs and ways centered on topics, such as hygiene, food, and social status.

Gruesome Way to Go

During the 1500's, England was a small country and finding enough room to bury the dead was difficult. If a town's graveyard could not accommodate all of their dead, it would dig up the contents of older graves and transport bones to what they called a 'bone house.' This way, the grave could be reused for the newly deceased. Unfortunately, some graveyard workers encountered unwelcome surprises when opening coffins – scratch marks decorating the inside lids of the coffins. Without the knowledge of modern medicine, it was not uncommon to bury someone while they were still alive.

Upon discovering the gruesome end that some people met, a new tradition emerged – tie a string to the wrist of a corpse that traveled to the surface of the grave. A bell attached to the end would ring if a corpse were indeed really not a corpse at all. Some graveyards got into the habit of hiring workers just to sit in the graveyard at night to listen out for the ringing of bells.

Keeping Clean

While the majority of Americans today make it a point to bath at least once per day, people living during the 1500's didn’t have cleanliness at the top of their lists. Because of this, unpleasant smells were common even though they came up with some pretty interesting ways to mask offending odors.

Could you survive an entire year with just one bath? The most popular time of the year to take a yearly bath was during the month of May. Interestingly, this is why the majority of people during this time chose to get married in June for this very reason. During the marriage of people living in the 1500's, brides carried bouquets of flowers to cover up their body odor.

Filling a big tub of water, it was the man of the household who got first dibs at taking a bath. The same water also catered to the sons and other men living in a home. Last, but not least – the women of the house followed by the children and babies were given access to the tub of water. As you can very well imagine, taking a bath in the water was like taking no bath at all. On the whole, washing the body was never looked at as a way to rid the skin of germs that cause disease and sickness. Skin was often dark and dirty.

Members of royalty dressed in shirts with puffy sleeves as a way to hide their perfume-dotted handkerchiefs. When coming in contact with the body odors of people around them, they frequently used the handkerchiefs as a shield.

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