Toilets of Faith
This is an overview of the toilets and other plumbing at sites of religious practice or significance. This page is just an overview, click on any pictures or links to be taken to detailed pictures.
Deuteronomy 23 instructs the Jewish people to "have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement."
The texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls specify defecation processes with greater precision. Defecation should be done between 1,000 and 2,000 cubits (from 457 to 914 meters) away from the camp in a north-westerly direction.
One sacred Hindu scripture, the Manusmṛti, instructs the reader in detail about the proper times and places for urination and defecation, and the purifying rituals that should follow.
The Vinaya Pitaka, a rulebook for Buddhist monks, goes into great detail in proper toilet use. As just a small sampling, proper Buddhist monks should defecate in the toilet in the order of arrival rather than that of seniority; should cough loudly when arriving at the toilet (and anyone already there should cough in response); should not chew tooth-cleaning wood while defecating, should not grunt while defecating, and should not wipe himself with a rough stick.
Ancient Delphic / Mother Goddess
Delphi, in Greece northwest of Athens, was a religious center for two millenia, from 1600 BC until 395 AD. By 1600 BC a shrine had been erected for Gaia, the Mother Goddess of west Asia, Then the myth held that the office of Oracle was held by the goddesses Themis and Phoebe. Later, the site was believed to be sacred to Poseidon, the deity of earthquakes known as "Earth-Shaker". During the Greek Dark Ages (11th-9th century BC), the temple was turned over to Apollo.
Here is the main temple in Delphi, the Temple of Apollo. The entrance to the temple was at the far or left end in this view.
The Sanctum Sanctorum, the Holiest of Holies, was at the opposite end, nearest the viewpoint in this picture. This was where the Oracle of Delphi sat on a tripod above a crevasse that emitted ethylene gas leading to the Oracle's strange mental states.
The Oracle would babble semi-coherently. Her ravings would then be "translated" by the temple priests into elegant hexameters.
The south side of the temple, the long downhill face, has a small passage leading back toward the area underneath the Oracle's seat! You can crawl back in there, I have pictures from inside that passage on the dedicated page about Delphi. But I had no visions.
Visitors did not just casually wander in to Delphi. Pilgrims would land at the Gulf of Corinth, several miles away, proceeding several miles up the valley toward the sacred site. They would purify themself on the way toward the sacred precincts.
The Castalian Spring and the sacred bathing area for cleansing purposes date back to Mother Goddess days, long before the Delphi of Classical Greek tradition.
The detailed page about Delphi provides many more pictures and background.
The Sacred Island of Delos
After the Greek Dark Ages and the emergence of the Ancient Greek culture, the island of Delos became dedicated to the Ancient Greek religion. These are the famous lion statues on the Terrace of the Lions near the Sanctuary of Apollo. They were dedicated to Apollo shortly before 600 BC by the people of Naxos.
Delos was a major cult center from 900 BC to 100 AD. It went through a number of cycles in which businesses would be established around the pilgrimage activity. At times it had the largest slave market in the region, and a number of large homes were built during these periods. But then the island would be "cleansed" of economic activity and re-dedicated purely to religion.Plumbing on the Sacred Island of Delos
The Delian League started meeting here after its foundation in 478 BC, after the Persian wars.
Other pictures of plumbing from the time of the sacred use of Delos include the large latrine of the House of the Trident, seen here, the latrine of the Lake House, an underground sewer channel, buried beneath one of the main streets, and a system of aquaducts and cisterns used to collect the rare drinking water on the arid island.
See the dedicated Delos page for those further details.
Exactly the same as with toilets at Buddhist temples and monasteries, the toilets at Shintō shrines are the same as those in the surrounding culture. With Shintō, that culture will be Japanese.
Many Shintō shrines are austere, with no public facilities. This one at Heian-jingū or the Heian Shrine in Kyūto is a rare public toilet at a Shintō shrine.
Hindu Toilet Rituals and Regulations
The Manusmṛti is a Hindu religious text, Sometimes the Sanskrit is transliterated as Manusmriti or Manusmruti, and is also known as the Mānava-Dharmaśāstra.
The Manusmṛti is the most important early text of the Hindu Dharmaśāstra tradition. It takes the form of a discourse by the sage Manu to a group of seers or rishis (that is, composers of Vedic hymns).
This text, created during the period 1500 BC to 500 AD, includes some commonly cited toilet regulations, included within the Fourfold Dharma of a Brahmin. It starts with restrictions on precisely where a Brahman must not urinate or defecate with further restrictions based on time of day, what he's looking at, head covering, and so on.Hindu Toilet Rituals and Regulations
Zoroastrian Toilet Rituals and Hygiene Regulations
The Sad Dar, a sacred book of the ancient Zoroastrian faith, contains a number of regulations on how to urinate, how to properly perform ablutions with associated prayers, and otherwise maintain proper hygiene.
Toilets of the Hebrew BibleToilets of the Hebrew Bible
This pit toilet has been constructed from local loose stones, just below the summit of Mount Sinai, Egypt. The mountain has been a major pilgrimage site at least since when the Byzantine Empress Helena (ruled 313-328 AD) established a monastery at the base of the mountain.
Cloacina, Goddess of the Sewers
Cloacina was the Roman goddess of sewers, simultaneously the goddess of filth and goddess of beauty. She was originally a goddess of the Etruscans, adopted by the Romans and made the protectoress of the Cloaca Maxima, the Great Sewer draining the low-lying areas of Rome while running under the Forum. The Sacrum Cloacina was a shrine on the Forum, with remnants still visible today.
Lord Byron wrote a poem to Cloacina:
O Cloacina, Goddess of this place,
Look on thy suppliants with a smiling face.
Soft, yet cohesive let their offerings flow,
Not rashly swift nor insolently slow.
Toilets of Christian Sites
Toilets of Christian sites in my collection include the famous public latrine at Ephesus, seen here. A settlement was founded in that area in the 10th Century BC, but it was relocated to its final location in 292 BC. Ephesus became the principal city of Asia Minor, so this public latrine was quite large.
These similar marble public toilets are next to the main processional way from the harbor gate in Korinthos, Greece. These date from when the Apostle Paul was visiting Korinthos, trying to turn people away from the mountaintop debauchery at the Temple of Aphrodite, visible on the mountaintop in the distance.
These surprisingly scenic urinals are at Maryemana, on a mountain above Ephesus.
Other New Testament era toilet pictures on the dedicated page include more from both Ephesus and Korinthos, and pictures of the public latrines at Hierapolis in Asia Minor, now Pamukkale, Turkey.
Islamic Toilet Etiquette
The Quran itself says next to nothing about toilet etiquette, just specifying that it is important to wash before prayer, or after you have used the toilet or had contact with women.Islamic Toilet Etiquette
Islamic regulations on toilet hygiene are codified in the hādīth, the collation of sayings attributed to Muhammad. Large collections of hādīth were gathered in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Shi'a and Sunni use different hādīth collections, meaning that there may be sect-specific differences in toilet procedures.
See the Islamic toilet etiquette page for all the details, including the prayers to say before entering the toilet, regulations on how to step in to the toilet, and how to pray when you're finish.
The toilet you see here is in Dahab, on the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
Arthurian Abbey Toilets
In 1191 the Glastonbury Abbey in southwestern England was in financial trouble. The abbot directed the monks to dig in a particular spot in the cemetery, where they found a large oak casket holding a man and woman. Obviously this was Arthur and Guinevere! Well, there was a lead cross enscribed in Latin, reading something like Here lies Arturus, king of the Britons. So they were moved to a new tomb in what was then a fairly new cathedral. And so today you can stand in one spot and see two tombs of Arthur and Guinevere.
The abbey ruins include a large plumbing contraption labeled REREDORTER. This obscure term specifically means the latrine associated with a monastic establishment, which is usually located behind the dorter or sleeping quarters.
The Arthurian Toilets page has further details and more pictures of the plumbing ruins of Glastonbury.
Greek Monastic Toilets
Meteora has been a monastic center in northern Greece since the 11th century. Byzantine monks built monasteries on eroded rock pinnacles. This is the monastery of Moni Varlaam, built in 1541.
The cliff faces here are up to 373 meters tall. Access was intentionally difficult. The traditional method of access was to be lifted in a basket suspended by a rope. When asked when the ropes were replaced, the monks famously answered "When the Lord lets them break".
The toilets, however, are very modern. Here is one of the toilets for visitors.
Medieval Scottish Ecclesiastical Toilets
Monastic communities called their latrines reredorters. Here is the reredorter at the Saint Andrew Cathedral Priory, a priory of Augustinian canons. Construction on the cathedral began in 1158.
Off the west coast of Scotland, in the Inner Hebrides, the Iona Abbey was built starting in 1203. However, the monastery itself dates back to the arrival in the year 563 of Colm Cille, later known as Saint Columba, with 12 companions. This is the reredorter of the abbey.
The dedicated Medieval Scottish Ecclesiastical page has further pictures and details on the reredorters and other plumbing features of both Saint Andrews and the Iona Abbey.
Medieval French Monastic Toilets
This channel carried water from a storage tank through the reredorter of the Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire near Ménerbes, in the Luberon region in Provence, east of Avignon in south-eastern France.
The abbey was founded by some hermit monks who came from Mount Carmel in Palestine. The local monastic communities at the time lived in caves, some of them excavated by hand into the fairly soft stone.Medieval French
The first dormitory was built some time in the 1100s. The abbey church was built in the mid 1200s. The year 1254 is carved in its wall.
A cloister was also built in the 1200s. This reredorter was at the far corner from the church.
This is one of the public toilets at the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, one of the few Buddhist temples left standing in Guangzhou in the southeastern People's Republic of China.
The dedicated Buddhist toilet page has more pictures and details about these toilets.
The VaticanVatican Toilets
Don't get excited, this isn't the Papal Throne!
This is just a toilet in the Vatican Museum.
Anthony Zacharzewski took a picture at Moreelstraat 6 in Mechelen, Belgium, at the Groot Begijnhof, where a 1985 Papal visit is believed to have given healing powers to the toilet water.
Op 21 mei 1985 bezocht Paus Johannes Paulus II het Groot Begijnhof tijdens een rondtocht door Mechelen. Ter hoogte van de hoek Moreelstraat—Begijnenkerhof verraste de Heilige Vader de bewoners van Moreelstraat 6 met een bezoek aan het toilet.
Sinds die dag komen pelgrims uit alle windstreken ieder jaar samen op 21 mei voor een bezoek aan deze bijzondere locatie vanwege de geneeskrachtige werking die singsdien wordt toegeschreven aan het toiletwater.
On May 21, 1985, Pope John Paul II visited the Groot Begijnhof during a tour of Mechelen. At the corner of Moreelstraat—Begijnenkerhof, the Holy Father surprised the residents of Moreelstraat 6 with a visit to the toilet.
Since that day, pilgrims from all over the world come together every year on May 21 to visit this special location because of the medicinal effect that has since been attributed to the toilet water.
Hare Krishna Toilets
The Hare Krishna movement was organized by Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada on the Lower East Side of New York, with chanting sessions in Tompkins Square Park, between Avenues A and B and 7th and 10th Streets.
See the dedicated page to also see toilets, showers, and sinks in Hare Krishna guesthouses and cafes.