With the decline of the Roman Empire, the public baths often became places of licentious behavior, and such use was responsible for the spread rather than the cure of diseases. A general belief developed among the European populace was that frequent bathing promoted disease and sickness. Medieval church authorities encouraged this belief and made every effort to close down public baths. Ecclesiastical officials believed that public bathing created an environment open to immorality and disease. Roman Catholic Church officials even banned public bathing in an unsuccessful effort to halt syphilis epidemics from sweeping Europe. Overall, this period represented a time of decline for public bathing.
People continued to seek out a few select hot and cold springs, believed to be holy wells, to cure various ailments. In an age of religious fervor, the benefits of the water were attributed to God or one of the saints. In 1326, Collin le Loup, an ironmaster from Liège, Belgium, discovered the chalybeate springs of Spa, Belgium. Around these springs, a famous health resort eventually grew and the term “spa” came to refer to any health resort located near natural springs. During this period, individual springs became associated with the specific ailment that they could allegedly benefit.
Bathing procedures during this period varied greatly. By the 16th century, physicians at Karlsbad, Bohemia, prescribed that the mineral water be taken internally as well as externally. Patients periodically bathed in warm water for up to 10 or 11 hours while drinking glasses of mineral water. The first bath session occurred in the morning, the second in the afternoon. This treatment lasted several days until skin pustules formed and broke resulting in the draining of “poisons” considered to be the source of the disease. Then followed another series of shorter, hotter baths to wash the infection awayclose the eruptions.
In the English coastal town of Scarborough in 1626, a Mrs. Elizabeth Farrow discovered a stream of acidic water running from one of the cliffs to the south of the town. This was deemed to have beneficial health properties and gave birth to Scarborough Spa. Dr Wittie’s book about the spa waters published in 1660 attracted a flood of visitors to the town. Sea bathing was added to the cure, and Scarborough became Britain’s first seaside resort. The first rolling bathing machines for bathers are recorded on the sands in 1735