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Sebastian Kneipp

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Bavarian priest and hydrotherapist, b. at Stephansreid, Bavaria, 17 May, 1821; d. at Wörishofen, 17 June, 1897. The child of poor parents, he became a weaver like his father, but, during his time as a journeyman, constantly cherished the hope of becoming a priest and spent all his spare time in study. With the aid of a friendly priest he was enabled to enter the gymnasium. Five years of severe study and privation brought with it a breakdown in health and young Kneipp developed consumption. His attention was called to the value of hydrotherapy and he began some experiments on himself. While at Dillingen during the winter of 1849, he used to bathe for a few minutes two or three times a week in the Danube, and then hurry home to his room. He says: "I never derived any harm from these cold exercises but also, as I deemed, small benefit." His health was somewhat improved the next year, and he entered the Georgianum, a seminary for theological students at Munich, when he was nearly thirty. Here he continued his hydrotherapeutic exercises and induced a fellow student to practice them. He soon found that the old suggestions as to the use of water were entirely too violent. He was ordained priest in 1852 and became chaplain successively in Biberach, Boos, and St. George in Augsburg. In 1855 he was made confessor to the nuns at the convent of Wörishofen and assistant in the parish ; in 1880 he became the parish priest.

While still a curate he practiced hydrotherapy for the benefit of the poor, and his success in curing their ailments attracted wide attention. People from neighbouring parishes began to flock to him; the rich as well as the poor came to be treated, and his fame spread throughout Germany. His little book, "My Water Cure", went through many editions and was translated into many languages, while people from all over Europe began to flock to him. Many of them were greatly benefited. Pfarrer Kneipp's system consisted of the regulation of the daily life, through simplicity of diet, and the plentiful use of cold water internally and externally. Many of the recommendations of cold water popularly attributed to him are exaggerations. He says most emphatically: "I warn all against too frequent application of cold water. Three times I concluded to remodel my system and relax the treatment from severity to mildness and thence to greater mildness still." His general rules were early to bed and early to rise, with a walk in the dewy grass in the bare feet, simple meals, no stimulants, not too much meat, and an abundance of cereals. To him we owe the idea of a cereal drink to replace tea and coffee. Kneipp Societies were formed in Germany and in the United States for the better execution of his regulations. Since his death they have dwindled, and his methods are being lost sight of, showing that it was the personality of the man rather than his system which gave him fame. He discovered nothing new, but systematized what was known before and had been allowed to lapse. Many well-known Europeans became his personal friends, and many prominent, and even royal, personages took up his method of treatment and were benefited. His "So sollt ihr leben" (1889) has been translated into many languages. Leo XIII made him a monsignor.

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