Lo, let us rejoice with St Windolene

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The Independent Online
Today - all you ever wanted to know about spring cleaning!

How did spring cleaning start?

The origins of spring cleaning are hidden in the mists of time. In fact, some experts think that's how it started - with the mists of time rolling back and revealing what a mess the place was.

What place?

Scythia.

Where's that?

It was part of the kingdom of Attila the Hun. Historians now think that Attila's ruthless expansion was due to his unwillingness to do any spring cleaning. He would conquer a place and occupy it, but when the mists of time rolled back at the end of winter to reveal what a mess he had made of the place, he would move on with his armies rather than clear up after him, and do some more conquering, and the whole process would be repeated in the next place they came to.

So, in a sense, Attila the Hun didn't invent spring cleaning - he invented getting out of spring cleaning!

Yes.

And his huge empire was created by an unwillingness to settle down to a bit of housework?

Yes. If you examine the annals, you will find that Attila the Hun - and, indeed, all epic conquerors like Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine the Great - set out on their great waves of conquest in springtime. It MUST have been to get away from spring cleaning.

It might have been because spring is the best time for starting a military expedition.

It might have been, but if you wanted that theory you should have consulted a military historian, not a professor of domestic cleaning like me.

Fair enough. Did the Christian church, as usual, try to take over the pagan festival of spring cleaning and sanitise what had been, up to then, a healthy seasonal ritual, and transform it into a namby pamby Saint's Day?

Of course. The ancient pagan festival, with its rich tradition of human sacrifice, feasting, singing, dancing and strangling criminals with their own washing-up cloths, was converted by the Christian fathers into the colourless festival of St Windolene.

Who was Windolene?

She was an early martyr who was hacked to death by Roman soldiers in AD352.

For being a Christian convert?

No. For endlessly nagging them to build their roads in straight lines and tidy away the corpses after battle.

Did the Christian church carry on the concept of spring cleaning?

If anything, the Christians made it worse.

In what way?

Have you ever tried to keep a stained glass window clean? Or cleaned out all those little corners in a crypt? Or done a little light dusting in a catacomb?

No....

Well, then.

I see. Incidentally, why was spring cleaning done in springtime?

Because that is when you see the dirt. All winter long the mess and the filth accumulates, and then, when the days get longer and the light improves, you suddenly notice it all, and you decide to have a grand clear out. Or, in the case of the great conquerors, you decide to invade somewhere tidier.

Of course, spring comes at different times in different parts of the world ....

True.

Is it spring now in South Africa?

No, it is autumn there.

So, does one half of the world do its spring cleaning while the other half is doing its autumn dirtying?

Yes.

So it's always time for spring cleaning somewhere in the world?

No. When it is winter or summer here, it is not spring anywhere else. Only summer or winter.

Was the Dissolution of the Monasteries spring cleaning by another name?

I beg your pardon?

The way that Henry VIII and, later, Oliver Cromwell, set about knocking down all the religious artefacts and knick-knacks and decoration in church has always been presented as a puritanical backlash against icon worship. But maybe it was only a protest against cluttered churches. Maybe they were getting into a mess, and it was a long overdue session of spring cleaning. Maybe Henry and Oliver were like long-suffering parents saying: "Look, children, it's gone too far - if you don't clear up your churches in the next half hour, I'm going to come in and do it for you and throw away anything that looks broken or old!"

Look, I'm not a religious historian, I'm just an expert on domestic cleaning. I can't handle questions like that! Can I have my money now?

Yes.

Thank you.

You're welcome.

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