Why Do We Say “God Bless You” After Sneezes?

by | Dec 12, 2017


Why do we say “Bless You,” and “God Bless You” after someone sneezes? In most western cultures, as well as some Asian ones, some form of blessing is commonly uttered in response to someone sneezing.  Why do we do this? We don’t say bless you after coughs, burps, or flatulence.

There are several explanations.

One common explanation is traced back to 590 AD. Supposedly, sneezing was one of the early symptoms of the plague, and Pope Gregory I ordered “unceasing prayer for divine intercession” after sneezing. This ritual caught on, and over the years, this habit of a short prayer after a sneeze was shortened to “God Bless You” and the like.

Another explanation is that there used to be a belief that you died briefly when you sneezed because the sneeze caused your heart to stop beating. Uttering “Bless You” and the like encouraged the heart to start beating again.

Finally, apparently there used to be a belief that when you sneezed you ran the risk of jettisoning your soul. Saying “Bless You” offered some protection against sneezing your soul out of your body.  Makes sense.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve got a good sneeze story: I’ve dealt with atrial fibrillation for many years, but thanks to good medical care it’s well managed. One morning last week though I could tell I was out of rhythm and sure enough my resting heat rate was up around 140. I feared I was headed to the cardiac cath lab for a nap and a zap, as I’ve done many times before. But before it ever got to that point I let out sneeze SO hard that it chased out the arrythmia demon and I dropped back into sinus rhythm! No kidding!


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