Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?

While I am on the middle ages kick. And expelling myths about that era. Here is a fun one. Did people (or monks) drink and brew beer because water was unsafe to drink. Maybe not.


It’s a story I’ve been guilty of treating a little too uncritically myself: “In the Middle Ages people drank beer rather than water because the water wasn’t safe.” But is that correct? No, not at all, according to the American food history blogger Jim Chevallier, who calls it The Great Medieval Water Myth

Chevallier declares (and a big hat-tip to Boak and Bailey for pointing me in his direction):

“Not only are there specific – and very casual – mentions of people drinking water all through the Medieval era, but there seems to be no evidence that they thought of it as unhealthy except when (as today) it overtly appeared so. Doctors had slightly more nuanced views, but certainly neither recommended against drinking water in general nor using alcohol to avoid it.”

He quotes the book Misconceptions About the Middle Ages, by Stephen Harris and Bryon L. Grigsby, which…

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Categories: Culture, History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?

  1. The greater question is whether this was true in Bible times (unlikely, as in Palestine it was often well water), as those who advocate total sobriety use to excuse the consumption on alcohol in scripture.

    • Good point.

    • I think that it was true of bible times. Im pretty sure water was available and wells were common. I’ll look into it.

      • Well my assumption is that they knew when a well was bad, because animals would die or avoid it. Can’t think of a reference but I vaguely remember a reference somewhere to poisoned or bad wells. Wells wouldn’t have spoilt the same way pipes and other infrastructure would have had the potential to in the Renaissance and Industrial eras.

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