Nosegay


A 1560 painting of a boy holding a nosegay in his hand.

After the Russian ambassador met King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), he wrote, His Majesty stunk like a wild animal. King Louis bragged at the fact of only bathing twice in his entire lifetime because it was commonly believed that bathing caused illness.

For more than 500 years, Europeans ignorantly believed that washing the hands, face, and body was the source of illness and death. Superstition advised against bathing – especially in warm or hot water – because it allowed diseases to enter the body through the pores in the skin.

Instead of washing dirt, grime, filth, and disease from the body, wealthy Europeans turned to nosegay, meaning happiness for the nose. The nosegay was a small sachet of flowers and herbs, or cloth dipped in perfume, stuffed in the shirt sleeve or cleavage and sniffed when body odor became overwhelming. Rather than remove the cause of the odor, Europeans tried to cover their own stench.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to frequently wash themselves; their hands, faces, feet, and bodies. Washing the dirt, grime, and stink from the body not only prevented the transfer of disease, but was symbolic of God’s forgiveness of sin (Numbers 8:7; Psalm 51:7).

Regular washing with water and soap is necessary for bodily health, but it’s powerless to purge the soul of sin. Christians can’t ignore the moral filth of daily sin, nor attempt to mask the stench with our own works. Instead, we regularly confess our sins to the ever-forgiving God and receive His gracious cleansing.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

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