Why did Pope Urban VIII forbid sneezing in the 17th century?

Sneezing is an active reaction of the body to any irritant. Before science could explain exactly what makes a person sneeze, the explanations for it were at times rather bizarre. For example, the standard “bless you” comes from the belief that when you sneeze, the soul can accidentally leave the body.

Previously, they said, “God bless you”, believing that in this way, you can protect yourself and others from evil. History has known a man who went much further than anyone else in his attempts to comprehend the nature of sneezing, and just in case, he forbade everyone to sneeze at all…

Who was Pope Urban VIII?

Pope Urban VIII was elected in 1623 and succeeded Pope Gregory XV. During the entire period of the papacy, Urban waged the so-called Thirty Years’ War. It has become one of the most destructive in the history of Europe.

The Pope was noted for his reign not only because he invested a huge amount of money in strengthening Rome and all of Italy but also because he liked to lead a very luxurious lifestyle. His villa was simply bursting with expensive things and the table with various unnecessary delicacies. Urban pampered himself and his entire family with Vatican money, leading a rather extravagant lifestyle.

Sniffing luxury

At that time, one of the luxurious whims of the citizens of the Vatican was snuff. It was the privilege of the richest and most powerful. It was made from ordinary tobacco, ground into a fine powder. The rich would inhale it or rub it on their gums.

Snuffbox 17th century.
Snuffbox 17th century.

Nicotine causes an instant effect, as the circulatory system instantly absorbs it. This tobacco is often flavored with various flowers and herbs. For example, aromatic oils of jasmine, clove, lavender, or rose.

Pope found the process of sneezing obscenely tempting

In addition to the stimulating effect of nicotine, snuff has always caused a person to sneeze when inhaled. This is not surprising – after all, a foreign substance got into the respiratory tract, and the body sought to get rid of it immediately.

Sneezing served as a protective reaction of the body. It is not clear why, but at some point, Pope Urban’s sneezing reminded him of the sounds of ecstasy from indecent carnal pleasures. Let’s not ask how the celibate religious dignitary knew about this, the main thing is what he did after that.

In 1642, Pope Urban VIII issued a worldwide ban on tobacco, especially snuff. On the one hand, right, of course. Just because they usually sneeze from tobacco, everyone was now under suspicion when they managed to sneeze suddenly.

Indeed, they were excommunicated for non-compliance with the papal order, betraying eternal anathema. It was worse than a death sentence in those days, for it meant spending all eternity in hell.

History is silent about Urban’s personal experience with tobacco and the euphoria of its use. Perhaps he was influenced by too many of the indecent stories associated with its use throughout Italy. In Naples, for example, an absolutely egregious case was recorded. One clergyman inhaled a pinch of snuff after communion. After that, he began to sneeze so hard that he eventually vomited, and the worst thing is that right on the altar.

Pope Urban’s ordinance remained in effect for a whole century. Pope Benedict XIII repealed it along with the smoking ban. The pontiff went even further and even opened his own tobacco factory in the Vatican at the end of the 18th century. The history of the Catholic Church at times looks quite bizarre.

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