History of Healing Water

Ancient Cultures Have Long Appreciated Water for Its Ability to Promote Health

Water has been used from time immemorial for remedial purposes. The world’s oldest medical literature makes numerous references to the beneficial use of the bath in treating various diseases.

Hippocrates was the first to write on healing diseases with water

The learned Greek, Hippocrates, who lived about five hundred years before Christ and is referred to as the “father of modern medicine,” was the first to write much on the healing of diseases with water. He used water extensively, both internally and externally, in treating illness of all kinds.

The Egyptians enjoyed bathing in the Nile

Long before Hippocrates recorded his experiences with the healing properties of water, the Egyptians enjoyed bathing in their sacred river, the Nile. Pictures of ancient Egyptians, found in the tombs, show people preparing for a bath. The baby Moses was found in the rushes when Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the river to bathe.

Bathing held a prominent place in the instructions that were given by Moses, under divine guidance, for the government of the Hebrew nation. The relationship of bathing to the treatment of leprosy would lead us to believe that it was used for its curative effects.

The ancient Persians & Greeks started to build public bathing facilities

The ancient Persians and Greeks erected stately and magnificent public buildings devoted to bathing. The baths of Darius I (about 558-486 B.C.), one of the earliest Persian kings, are spoken of as being especially remarkable. The Greeks were probably the first nation to use the bath for personal cleanliness as well as for health reasons.

Rome’s warm public baths

Rome, however, surpassed all the older nations in the costliness and magnificence of her bathing facilities. The first public bath was erected in Rome in the year 312 B.C. and it used only cold water. It was not long, however, until warm water baths replaced all those using cold water alone.

Some of the greatest works of architecture in Rome were the warm public baths, which were supplied with every convenience for increasing the use and luxury of bathing as well as having many rooms for social gatherings. At one time the number of public baths in Rome reached nearly one thousand.

Two noted physicians of the Roman Empire, Celsus and Galen, praised and glorified the bath as being invaluable for the treatment of a number of specific diseases. Galen said that exercise and friction must be used with the bath in order to have a perfect cure.

The Arabians have sometimes been looked upon as a wandering horde of wild men, but about one thousand years ago they had physicians among them that were some of the most learned men of that age. They were very sensible and enthusiastic about the benefits of the bath.


Paris public vapor baths

In the year 1600 A.D., public vapor baths were numerous in Paris, France. They were connected with the barber shops, as many still are in that country at the present time. Dr. Bell, of Paris, states that in connection with the city hospitals nearly 130,000 baths were given in a single year to outside patients.

The Germans in olden times were very fond of bathing. According to the records of history, during the Middle Ages when there were many cases of leprosy, it was a religious duty to bathe because of the national faith in bathing. History also tells us that Emperor Charlemagne, who was a giant of a man over seven feet tall with long blond hair, held court while relaxing in a huge warm bath.


The book “Common Water, the Best Cure for Fevers” was published in 1723

During the early part of the eighteenth century, water was used medicinally. Floyer published a history of bathing in which remarkable cures were reported, and he recommended the bath for numerous diseases. A Mr. Hancock, who was a minister, published in 1723 a book called “Common Water, the Best Cure for Fevers.”

Developed various ways of applying cold water to the body to treat different diseases

In the early part of the nineteenth century, Vincent Priessnitz popularized the use of cold water as a curative measure. He was a peasant who lived in the Austrian part of Silesia from 1799 to 1851. In the small Austrian town where he grew up, water was used by the people to treat many ailments.

When only a young man, Priessnitz suffered a severe injury. Several of his ribs were broken and his chest was caved in on the left side by a loaded wagon. Several of his teeth were also knocked out. The doctors who came to see him did not offer any hope for a cure. But he remembered several years before when he had successfully treated a badly crushed finger by holding it in cold water until the bleeding stopped and the pain was relieved, and he decided to treat his broken ribs in the same way. So by taking deep breaths while leaning over a chair to expand his ribs and using cold water, he was gradually completely cured.

It was not long after this that Priessnitz began to use this cold water treatment on others. His success greatly encouraged him, but he met with considerable opposition from the doctors when he treated some of their patients and cured them, after the doctors had given them up. Although Priessnitz had no formal education, he developed various ways of applying cold water to the body to treat different diseases. His fame increased rapidly and in a few years he was known throughout the world.

Today he is called the father of modern hydrotherapy. He succeeded in restoring hundreds of people to health who had been pronounced incurable. His friends claimed that he was a great discoverer, but he really didn’t discover anything that had not been known for at least a century, if not for thousands of years before.

Dr. Wilhelm Winternitz start developing new methods of water treatment
A famous neurologist in Vienna, Dr. Wilhelm Winternitz, went to observe Priessnitz’s water cure treatment center in Graefenberg, Austria. He was so impressed with what could be accomplished with such simple means that he spent the rest of his life working to develop new methods of water treatment.

The influence of Dr. Winternitz was felt by such well-known American water cure advocates as Dr. Simon Baruch and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. It was Dr. Baruch who was chiefly responsible for the passage of laws in the state of New York that required the establishment of municipal baths in that state.

Dr. Kellogg was the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, the largest hydrotherapy treatment center in the United States until it was destroyed by fire on February 18, 1902. He developed many new treatments, including the electric light bath, that used natural methods.

The “water cure” spread to America about 1850 and until about 1854 it prospered greatly, but most of the doctors were opposed to this treatment. About 1870 they successfully had a law passed that prevented the water cure practitioners from practicing in New York.

The North American Indians used baths for many diseases. They developed original ways of giving both water and vapor baths. The vapor bath was the most commonly used, and it was followed by a plunge into a cold stream. This is similar to the custom so widely practiced at the present time in Finland, of jumping into either the snow or ice-cold water following a hot sauna bath.

The native Mexicans also use a hot-air bath (sauna). They confine themselves in a brick house that is heated by a furnace located on the outside.

Lately, people have been led to believe that there are remarkable virtues in certain spring waters (this refers to water from certain hot mineral springs that is used for external treatments). The claim that these waters are possessed of a miraculous healing power is not true. The healing virtue is in the moist heat that is obtained from the water.

Unfortunately, in the early days the reputation of water as a remedy was injured because people such as Vincent Priesnitz used it to extremes. Such practitioners did not understand the human body, the use of hot and cold water, or the useful and powerful reactions that are produced in the body when it is properly used.

People were led to believe that it was a cure-all, and that cold water was the only remedy no matter what the condition of the disease might be. Rest, pure air, nourishing and simple food, sunlight, and exercise are of equal importance to water in all cases. Even so, water is an important agent in the treatment of many ailments when it is correctly applied and used with other forms of treatment.


References: Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss, ISBN 0940985101