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

Andy Warhol drew them; Terence Stamp is obsessed with them; a man in Italy is in jail for kissing the ones belonging to a stranger. They are the subject of fetishists' passions, and phobics' darkest fears. Many of us who feel we are otherwise quite well-adjusted blush at the thought of a stranger seeing ours. So perhaps it's not so surprising that when I received a message asking me, would I let a man in a pointy hat wash my feet, my first thought was: no way!

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.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

    £32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam