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Re: Bless you

Posted by David FG on January 01, 2009 at 09:09

In Reply to: Re: Bless you posted by ESC on December 31, 2008 at 22:44:

: : When/where/and/or why did people start saying, "bless you," after a person sneezed?

: "GOD BLESS YOU" WHEN SNEEZING - One reference says that a sneeze was feared and "regarded as a sign of great personal danger" by many early cultures including the Greeks and Romans. "Romans saw in it an evil omen. Parsees felt that the sneeze indicated the threatening presence of evil spirits." The ancient Hebrews associated breath with the soul since dead people don't breathe. So they believed "when a man sneezed, he was nearest to death." These early beliefs, the author says, must have been forgotten by medieval times "because it was Pope Gregory the Great who was credited with having introduced the saying 'God bless you,' to anyone who sneezed." During his reign the Roman population "was decimated by a plague believed to have been caused by contamination of the air. This, it was thought, made people who sneezed 'give up the ghost' immediately." It was then that the Pope started the custom of blessing sneezers to "keep from them any evil effect." This reference also discusses a story from Irish lore about a brother and sister who, during the Black Plague, uttered a prayer "God help me," whenever they sneezed. Because of this they lived and were the sole survivors in their area. "How Did it Begin?" by R. Brasch (Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1969). Page 71-72.

: More sneezing information here: http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/18/messages/219.html


I am always very sceptical about any supposed links between sneezing, '(God) bless you', and the plague, for the simple reason that sneezing is not one of the symptoms of that disease.

DFG