Cubed here. The summer has not gone as planned for me because of some health problems, but now that I'm not as sloshed with pain medication as I have been for the last several weeks, I am able to begin blogging again, at least as a low level.
This is about an almost "Who cares?" issue, and it's really off the usual topics, but the fact that the idea is so widespread, and that Easter is only a few months off, irks me enough to write about it.
It's the matter of the ceremonial/ritual practice of "Washing the Feet" (usually of the Pope) during the Easter season; most observants interpret this act as a symbolic recreation of humble behavior at the Last Supper, where Jesus' feet were washed by his followers.
The "washing of feet" prior to dining was truly a widespread practice among the upper classes of Rome and the "Romanized" peoples of the Empire, and according to some, Jesus and his family fell into that category. They maintain that although not a family of great wealth, Jesus was not as impoverished as generally portrayed, but actually fairly comfortably off. In fact, the very washing of his feet prior to the last (and quite possibly other) formal dining experience of his life has been offered as one piece of evidence supporting this view. Formal dining was not engaged in by the poor.
So, if not a show of humbleness, what WAS the practice of foot washing all about?
Most people know that among wealthy Romans, the diners lay on couches around the table. During dinner, the diners' shoes were removed so as not to dirty the couches. Since the shoes were made of leather, and (with few exceptions by soldiers, especially in northern provinces) socks were not worn, the odor from sweaty feet was both copious and permanent, and as we all know, it could be pretty ferocious. Since, in addition, the diners reclined at a slant on their left elbows while eating with their right hands, their feet were pretty close to the faces of the person next to their left. So - well, you know how unpleasant that could make eating if some odor control precaution weren't taken.
The precaution taken was foot washing. Servants circulated around the diners after they had removed their shoes, and washed their feet so that that they could eat without becoming nauseated by the odor of the feet of the person next to them.
The Romans were significantly misunderestimated re: their ability to think at any but a somewhat brutish "practical" level (as contrasted with higher level conceptual levels). However, I must admit, the practice of foot-washing represented a very practical solution to a real problem of daily life. Not a major achievement, perhaps, but it solved a serious etiquette problem.
Given the formality and gravity of the Last Supper, the fact that Jesus was quite possibly of a somewhat better off socioeconomic level than generally thought, that adult males at these kinds of occasions did not sit in chairs at the table (as pictured in Leonardo's famous painting), and that sitting in chairs around a table near the men's couches was a practice limited largely to women and children (empresses and such not included), this could offer an explanation for the "Washing of the Feet" ceremony of the Pope at Easter.
Whether this might offer some clues about the identity of the feminine-looking figure to Jesus' right in Leonardo's fresco I don't know (would a woman eat with the men on such an occasion?), but it might shed some light on the Muslims' foot-washing practice at prayer; after all, they have formed rows during prayer, with the heads of one row very near the feet of the bare feet of the next row, from an era where socks weren't commonly worn.