Why do religions have a foot fetish?

It’s Easter, and Christians around the world are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Oddly, though, in the past few years the biggest surprises of the Easter season have come three days earlier, on Holy Thursday, the day when Christians celebrate the Last Supper.

This year Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 young refugees. Traditionally, Popes would wash the feet of 12 Catholic men, but Francis has broken with tradition. The first year of his papacy he outraged some conservatives by choosing to wash the feet of criminals, women, and Muslims.

The choice of refugees is deliberate. Francis is trying to make the point that we are called to serve the weakest members of society who, right now, are refugees. It’s a commendable gesture that has made news but you may wonder: How did a spa treatment become first a religious ritual and then a political statement?

The basis for washing feet on Holy Thursday is the account of the Last Supper. According to the Gospels, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples before his final meal with them. At the time, the disciples were debating their relative position in the kingdom of heaven.

By taking on the role of a servant and washing the feet of his followers, Jesus was highlighting their pride. It was a subversive act that threw shade on the apostles’ ambitions. It was absorbed into Christian ritual almost immediately, being incorporated into baptismal practice across the empire from the second century onwards.

And, in the 16th century, radical reforming Protestants tried to re-create the faith of the apostolic era by reintroducing foot washing into their daily lives. Continue reading

  • Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame and an award-winning author of five books. The article above is from The Daily Beast.
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