11 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (22) Hygiene

Σταθμός υγιεινές … hand hygiene in a supermarket in Platanias in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Walking into the local supermarkets in Rethymnon, the signs direct me to the σταθμός υγιεινές or ‘safety station.’ They might as easily have been translated ‘hygiene stop.’

Although tourists and Greeks alike seem to be more lax about wearing facemasks in public places, there are hand sanitisers, for example, at every table in every restaurant and café. There is no getting away from the Corona virus on holidays, and no getting away from keeping up standards of personal and public hygiene.

Hygiene is a series of practices performed to preserve health. According to the World Health Organization, hygiene involves ‘conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases.’

Personal hygiene involves maintaining the body’s cleanliness, but we can also talk about home and everyday hygiene, medical hygiene, sleep hygiene and food hygiene.

Many people equate hygiene with cleanliness. But hygiene also includes such personal habit choices, how frequently I take a shower or bath, wash my hands, brush my teeth, clip my fingernails, and wash my clothes, the attention I give to keeping kitchen surfaces and the bathroom clean.

We are used to some regular hygiene practices that we see them simply as good habits and good manners, while neglecting hygiene can be seen as disrespectful, disgusting, or even threatening.

The word hygiene, of course, has its origins in the Greek language. The word is first found in English in 1676, introduced from the French hygiene. This, in turn, comes from the Latin adaptation of the Greek ὑγιεινή (τέχνη) hygieinē technē, the ‘(art) of health,’ ὑγιεινός (hygieinos, ‘good for the health, healthy,’ and those phrases, in turn, come from the Greek ὑγιής (hygiēs), ‘healthful, sound, salutary, wholesome.’

In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Hygeia (Ὑγίεια) was the goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene. She is related to the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, who is the son of the Olympian god Apollo the healer.

Hygieia is referred to as a daughter of Asclepius and his wife Epione. She and her four sisters each performed a facet of Apollo’s art: Hygieia (health, cleanliness, and sanitation); Panacea (universal remedy); Iaso (recuperation from illness); Aceso (the healing process); and Aglaïa (beauty, splendour, glory, magnificence, and adornment). Apollo the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia and Panacea are all named in the original Hippocratic Oath:

‘I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement:

‘To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art.

‘I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.

‘I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.

‘But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts.

‘I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.

‘In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves.

‘All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.

‘If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.’

Personal hand sanitisers on every table in Pagona’s restaurant in Tsesmes, Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Yesterday: Holocaust

Tomorrow: Laconic

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
105, Saint Mary Aldermary, London

Saint Mary Aldermary … ‘the most important late 17th-century Gothic church in England’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Crete, where I am staying this week and next on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the attacks in New York on 11 September 2001. I still have graphic memories of that day, which one of the grimmest days I had working as Foreign Desk Editor at The Irish Times.

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for the coming weeks is Wren churches in London, and my photographs this morning (11 September 2021) are from Saint Mary Aldermary on Watling Street and Bow Lane.

The magnificent fan-vaulted plaster ceiling in Saint Mary Aldermary is by Henry Doogood (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

According to Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, Saint Mary Aldemary is ‘the chief surviving monument of the 17th-century Gothic revival in the City and – with Warwick – the most important late 17th-century Gothic church in England.’

There has been a church on this site for over 900 years, and it was first mentioned in 1080. The name probably indicates that this is the oldest of the City churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Burials in the early church include Richard Chaucer, said to be the father of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

The mediaeval church was rebuilt from 1510, when Sir Henry Keeble financed the building of a new church. The tower was still unfinished when he died in 1518.

The poet John Milton married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, in the church in 1663. Three years later, Saint Mary Aldermary was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London of 1666, although parts of its walls and tower survived.

The church was mostly rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in a Gothic style. Henry Rogers left a legacy of £5,000 for rebuilding a church, and his widow agreed to use it to fund the rebuilding of Saint Mary’s. According to some sources, she stipulated that the new church should be an exact imitation of the one largely destroyed.

Wren rebuilt the church with an aisled nave, six bays long, with a clerestory and a short chancel. The nave and aisles are separated by arcades of clustered columns, supporting somewhat flattened Gothic arches. The magnificent fan-vaulted plaster ceiling is by Henry Doogood.

The east wall of the chancel is set askew in relation to the axis of the church. The slender piers, slightly pointed arches and clerestory are all typic of the Perpendicular style. The Gothic tower is one of the finest of its kind in England.

During World War II, this Wren church was damaged by German bombs in the London Blitz. All the windows were shattered and some plaster fell from the vaulting, but the building itself remained intact. The church was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950.

The East Window and High Altar in Saint Mary Aldermary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 6: 43-49 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

46 ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’

The Gothic tower is one of the finest of its kind in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (11 September 2021) invites us to pray:

Today is the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in New York. We pray for all those affected by this tragic event through bereavement, injury and shock.

The World War II memorial window in Saint Mary Aldermary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A triptych of the Transfiguration in Saint Mary Aldermary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saint Mary Aldermary on Watling Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)