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.