23 January 2020, The Tablet

Healing waters at Bad Wörishofen

Healing waters at Bad Wörishofen

The Sebastianeum in Bad Wörishofen


His followers revere Fr Sebastian Kneipp as the founder of holistic medicine. He also enjoyed a good cigar. A historian visits the sanatorium in Bavaria that Kneipp founded

Guests arriving, as I did last year, to stay at the Sebastianeum in the resort town of Bad Wörishofen, 70 kilometres west of Munich, are greeted just inside the front door by a large aluminium watering can from which a steady stream of water pours into a tub below. It provides an early alert that this is not just a four-star hotel but a sanatorium offering a range of hydropathic treatments, as well as a Catholic retreat house.

A large portrait hanging next to the watering can in the lobby provides the key to the Sebastianeum’s name and unusual atmosphere. It depicts a portly priest in full vestments with exceptionally bushy eyebrows and the round open face of a countryman. Sebastian Kneipp, 1821-1897 (inset), parish priest of Bad Wörishofen from 1881 until his death, founded the place that now bears his name as a cure centre for priests in 1891.

While studying for the priesthood Fr Kneipp claimed to have healed himself from tuberculosis by plunging for a few seconds three times a week into the chilly waters of the Danube and taking ice-cold baths. He began to offer similar treatments to his parishioners and became internationally famous after he apparently cured the Hapsburg Archduke Joseph from acute sciatica.

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