Archaeologia (Second Series)

Research Article

XX.—Recent discoveries in the Cloister of Durham Abbey.

W. H. St. John Hope and Canon J.T. Fowler

The custom of washing the hands before the principal meal of the day, based, as it is, upon common decency and convenience, has at all times been observed by civilised people. The Greeks and Romans, or at any rate the more leisured and luxurious among them, not only took their baths before the chief meal, but had water for their hands brought round repeatedly during the meal, which would be the more necessary when the fingers were used in eating much more than they are now. The disciples of Christ were accused by the Pharisees and certain of the Scribes of transgressing the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands when they ate bread. The “tradition of the elders” is abundantly illustrated in the literature of the Jews, and similar traditions prevail among the Mohammedans and other Orientals. In religious minds the act of washing the hands has naturally acquired a symbolical meaning. Hence the Lavabo in the Eucharistic rite which i s described by Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 348-386) as not merely for the sake of personal cleanliness, but as a symbolic act, connected with the words of Psalm xxvi. 6, “I will wash my hands in innocency, O Lord, and so will I go to thine altar.”