Sunday, November 01, 2009

Question from Emilia - Cold baptismal water and childhood illness

This summer i visited Torpa Stenhus, the home of Gustav Wasas third wife Katarina Stenbock. It´s from the 15th century and located in the south-west of Sweden. At Torpa there´s a very old baptismal font, made of stone.
The guide there told us something I find very hard to believe. She claimed that when children were baptised in this font, they didn´t bother to heat up the water, not even during the cold (very, very cold in sweden!) winter. The font was placed in the chapel wich was never heated so sometimes the baptism-water was frozen so they had to remove the ice covering the water. She said that on very rare occasions, and only for boys, they could place a heated stone on the bottom to warm it up, but that hardly ever happened. The guide said that this could be part of the explenation to why so many children died in infancy.
Now to my question: Could this possibly be true? Has anyone heard of anything about this custom, or is it maybe something that only took place in Sweden? I find it hard to believe because even though people didn´t now as much about causes behind deseases, it should still have been well known how dangerous icecold water is for anyone, especially an infant.
Sorry for the long text, but the question needed som background explenation!
Sincerly / Emilia

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    This was not unique to Sweden. Warming baptismal water would have been very unusual in England as well.

    Remember that 16th century medical understanding of the body was very different than how we understand it today. Cold baptismal water may not have been considered a potentially mortal threat to the health of an infant and may have contributed to some infants becoming fatally ill. But there were many, many other factors affecting the high infant mortality rates.


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