"God Bless You" Sneeze Response: A Pope, A Plague, And A Proclamation

By | February 12, 2020

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1950s woman preparing for a sneeze. (Photo by Debrocke/ClassicStock/Getty Images)

With the common cold, the flu, coronavirus, and goodness knows what else running rampant right now, sneezes are on the rise. As a result, proper old ladies can hardly keep up with the demand for them to say "God bless you," but have you ever wondered why they do it? It seems like an odd thing to say in response to a common bodily function, but there is a sound reason for saying "God bless you" when someone sneezes. It all has to do with a pope, the Plague, and an edict made on this day, February 16, in the year 600. 

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Sneezing was one of the first signs of plague. (vivecamino.com)

The Black Plague

Several times in European history, the Plague swept across the continent, killing as much as one-third of the population. Among the first symptoms of the Plague were sneezing and coughing, soon to be followed by boils, fever, breathing trouble, vomiting blood, and necrosis of the skin tissue, causing the skin to turn black. Usually, the victim was dead within 7–10 days.