sweet sweat

Different countries have different public bathing rituals. In Finland it’s the sauna, in Turkey the hamam, the Japanese have their onsens and the Russians their banyas. The Russian banya is used for more than just sweating and bathing though. Women give birth there and funerals and weddings are also celebrated.

The bride-to-be’s bania was heated with birch, pine or cedar, but never aspen for it was regarded as a sorrowful tree. During the bath she was expected to use the engagement present from the groom-a fresh birch whisk and a piece of soap. Her sweat was collected by pouring milk over her body and then dough was plastered over her. Later the dough was kneaded and made into bread and cakes to be served at the wedding feast. The bride-to-be’s sweat mixed with vodka, wine, and grains were poured on the bania rocks to enhance the scent. Honey and hops were added to give the bride-to-be a rich sweet life.

image by Horst

Occasionally a poor peasant family would not have a regular bania, but so important was the wedding bania that the household baking oven would be used instead. Before all the cakes and breads had been prepared, the oven was cleaned and the bride-to-be was shoved in on a wooden platter. The door was sealed from the outside while she sweated and washed alone.

Bun in the Oven Candle found here

The Church often accused the banya of being a hotbed of sin and loose morals. But cries from the Church were usually muffled by the clergy’s own promiscuous bathing habits.

image found here

Catherine of St. Petersburg issued the following edict: ” …  in those rooms which are meant for women, no men may be allowed in except employees of the bania, artists and doctors who wish to study and improve themselves in their art.” As you can well imagine, dilettantes of the arts and medicine flourished, and coed bathing continued.

When Robert Porter visited Moscow in 1809, he found coed bathing very popular. In a letter to a friend in England he wrote:

As we approached these cleansing elevations we beheld the waters that rolled from under their foundations filled with naked persons of both sexes who waded or swam out from the bath in great numbers, without any consideration of delicacy or decency. From motives of gallantry we posted ourselves opposite the ladies, the better to observe the grace and nymph-like beauty of their groups.

lots more banya images over at englishrussia


Published in: on January 17, 2010 at 6:56 am  Comments (31)  
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31 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. When I had some work shown in Helsinki many, many years ago, I did the communal sauna ‘thang’ ….. and the running around in the snow afterwards ….. no wonder the suicide rate is quite high there …… brrrrrrrr

    • I thought it was supposed to release massive amounts of endorphins?

  2. I feel ready to tackle sculpting the nude figure- just as soon as I finish these yeasty sweat cakes. I made Dew Bundts!

    Leif Ittorise

  3. Cakes made with the bride’s sweat sounds like something from a fairy story, to cast some kind of spell. Do you remember ‘Like Water for Chocolate’? Everyone at the wedding was sick from eating food the broken hearted one’s tears had fallen into.

  4. Remind me never to eat or drink anything if I ever tell you I’m going to a Russian wedding.
    I guess if you are worried about your daughter’s purity or your wife’s fidelity it would alleviate your concerns to know that there were only artists and doctors to choose from. Slim pickings indeed!

  5. Honey why does this wedding cake taste like ass??

  6. What was that comedy film set in ancient Roma where mare’s sweat was the vital ingredient for something? I bet nymph sweat would have been tastier. Do you like being licked, Nursie?

    • I prefer being bitten

      • I’m sad enough to know that it was “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.”

  7. note to self: pack a lunch for my next russian wedding…

  8. Fascinating. I’ve been to Russia twice but never heard any of this! Great post

    • oh I’m envious. Would love to go to Russia, though maybe not in winter

  9. Why is it that all the non-Western countries seem to have fewer issues with public nudity (e.g., mixed bathing, topless beaches, etc.), but at the same time seem to have even more taboos with regard to sexuality?

  10. The bun in the oven candle is WAY too much. It’s a perfect gift for anyone who finds themselves with a new little life inside. I’m one who is glad our bathing rituals are limited to home events. …Although our shower doesn’t make it easy for husband and wife to enjoy together. 😦

  11. I think without the sword and shield, that picture of the topless woman in the viking helmet wouldn’t work. For me, at least.

  12. “Women give birth there and funerals and weddings are also celebrated.” Good lord, I hope someone had a firm grasp on scheduling, because if all of those things went on there, in one day, amidst steam….ew.

  13. “From motives of gallantry…” I’m having that embroidered on my sleeves.

    • Or you could get it tattooed on your arm and it would last longer. 🙂

  14. I wish someone I knew was getting married right now just so that I could share these factoids
    🙂

  15. being shoved into the oven on a wooden platter. that must be a sight to see. I wonder if some brides-to-be never make it to the wedding?

    • doesn’t it remind you of Hansel and Gretel?

  16. does a hot tub count? not sure how i’m going to collect her sweat, but she’s a willing experimentalist.

  17. If the bride were happy and healthy I would most happily eat some of her cake. Nothing wrong with fresh sweat from a clean body as far as I’m concerned.

  18. OK, this made me horny, sorry

  19. ‘The bride-to-be’s sweat mixed with vodka, wine, and grains were poured on the bania rocks to enhance the scent’

    Ok if your making cakes with human sweat… I think a fair mount of vodka has probably already been used, and it might be time to tone it down a little.

    • Haha… alex, you need to take up blogging agin

  20. Well I don’t know how I feel about food seasoned with womens sweat but the coed bathing has promise depending on what women is bathing of course.

  21. I do not want someone to back bread from the sweat of Rassles, and I don’t think you guys would want that either.

    • Ha. Back bread.

      Bake bread.

  22. I think “quilt sweat” could taste pretty good Rassles
    😉


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