The route to my sole this Easter
What do you do if you hate your feet and an abbot wants to wash them? CATHERINE PEPINSTER reports
Let a stranger wash my feet, and an abbot in a mitre at that? Which apparently is the reaction of most Brits when they are asked to participate in church ceremonies on Maundy Thursday, commemorating Jesus washing the feet of his apostles before the Last Supper, on the night before his Crucifixion. But why? They're only feet, not private parts as such. Why are we so squeamish and so coy?
Perhaps it's to do with our climate. In the Holy Land people live in sandals. Here, for most of the year, our corns and callouses, bunions and boils are kept well hidden beneath leather. Baring them comes as a shock, and particularly for me. As I get out my Birkenstocks each year, I look down and grimace. I assume that everybody else's feet are gorgeous: slender, elongated, highly arched, and with very shiny nails. Not like mine.
Maybe, like so many of our inhibitions, my blushes stem from childhood trauma. I well recall being taken to a shoe shop and my mother urging me to put my feet inside a machine that would take a sort of X-ray; I stared down through this thing and could see my bones. Then a sales assistant announced to the entire shop: "Just as I thought. Very wide. Very VERY wide. E fitting for you."
Others have their own explanations. For Laura Johnson, the trauma stretches way beyond childhood, back into history. "I can't bear feet - I'm actually disgusted by them - and I think it's because they're almost primeval," she says, wriggling in her shoes. "There's something about them - all the bones and the toes, which seem almost webbed - that remind me of dinosaurs. Yeuch."
Dinosaur claws? You start to understand why putting my feet on display for the benefit of a church ceremony required drastic action, so first call last Thursday was a beauty salon for a pedicure. After a soak in a solution of rosemary, camomile and mint, and a rub down with a pumice, Amanda, my beautician for the morning, was on to massage. Bliss it was, suddenly, to be alive - I started to feel more forgiving of my feet for providing me with this pleasure. Amanda seemed quite taken with them too. As she melted my stress away, she confessed to the meditative qualities of foot stroking. "I could sit here for hours doing this," she said.
She told me that, for all their embarrassing qualities, feet have a history of sensuality. I knew that already - perhaps the most erotic moment in the New Testament was when a woman washed Christ's feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, covered them with kisses and anointed them with the ancient world's version of moisturiser - ointment from an alabaster jar. Today making feet sexy involves a pair of stilettos with six-inch heels. Then their line and curve begins to suggest the phallus, if you subscribe to the notions of Freud.
Which is probably no way to reintroduce the abbot to the story. But there I was, my tootsies pristine, and there he was on his knees washing the feet in turn of a dozen of us, arraigned before the altar, drying them with a fluffy white towel. It was a dramatic moment, with 800 people in the congregation, together with 16 priests, assorted monks and a fine choir singing Durufle. But it was far more than that.
Two thousand years ago, when Jesus got down on his knees to wash the feet of disciples who lived in a hot, sticky desert country, there would have been no fluffy white towels. Those feet would have been filthy, sweaty and stinking. And it brought it home to me. To wash someone else's feet, I thought, as the abbot patted my toes dry, is a gesture of utter humility and great tenderness. My size fives, requiring very wide fittings, thanks to Amanda and the man in the pointy hat, feel all the better for it. You can learn a lot from a simple symbolic gesture.
Life & Style blogs
Teenagers irritable because early school hours mess with their biological clocks
The Fappening: After the third wave of leaked celebrity photos, why can't we stop it?
Londoners agree to give up first-born child in exchange for free internet
The truth about student sex workers: it's far from Belle Du Jour
Average Briton spends £50,000 on alcohol over course of lifetime
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
'Women, walk wherever you want' posters taken down in Stamford Hill following 'unacceptable' signs separating men and women
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- 1 Reyhaneh Jabbari: Iran due to execute woman for murder of her alleged attempted rapist
- 2 Expert urges cat lovers to own just one animal each
- 3 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 4 The Simpsons death: Creator Al Jean would 'kill himself' before character like Homer or Lisa
- 5 British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
- < Previous
- Next >
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...
£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...
£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...