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Condom Capers - Condoms, Cathedrals, Castles and Caves

In Search of the Condom, an Oddly Ancient Accessory


Condoms and Cathedrals

Imagine a condom manufacturer teaming up with a local tourist office to sell condoms featuring wrappers imprinted with the image of a famous local cathedral. Imagine the pious priest's crinkled visage as he gets the news that his Godly structure (complete, of course, with its flying buttresses and soaring bell tower) is featured on a product sold to limit the fruitfulness of its users.

It happened recently in Erfurt, Germany. The condoms, their wrapper highlighting Erfurt's 700 year old cathedral, are being sold by the tourist authority. Tourists like it. Priests evidently do not.

This news was the inspiration for this article.

Wherefore art thou, ancient condom? Travel to the condom's earliest haunts.

"The earliest evidence of condom use in Europe comes from scenes in cave paintings at Combarelles in France."

Funny, you'll find this exact phrase on almost any web history of the condom. I've yet to find scientific evidence of this (but then artefactual evidence of sexuality in puritan cultures is often hidden away in museum cellars).

No matter, you can actually visit the Grotte des Combarelles to see for yourself. It's a 600 foot-long cave with hundreds of engraved animal and human figures (a few decidedly sexual).

The cave is located 3km from the village of Les Eyzies on Route D47. It is very close to Font de Gaume, a cave which I recommend highly for its animal representations. Both caves are open the same hours:

  • From 15 may to 15 September: 9:30 to 5:30
  • From 15 September to 14 May: 9:30 to 12, 2 to 5:30
  • Tickets: 6.10 Euros.

You are advised to call for reservations in the season: Telephone: (+33) (0)5 53 06 86 00 Fax: (+33) (0)5 53 35 26 18

You can find lodging in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac or Sarlat.

The Site of the Oldest Excavated Condom: Dudley Castle, West Midlands, England.

In the mid 1980's brave archaeologists fishing about in the cesspit of Dudley Castle fingered some pretty amazing artifacts: five scraps of animal membrane were gently lifted from the muck. Those little scraps, resembling thin leather, were later recognized as condom fragments dating between 1642 and 1647. Later, five more condoms were found, nestled one inside the other.

They were probably made from pig or sheep intestine. They were prepared by cleaning, soaking and stretching into shape. This was not an easy task, and these things were thought to be reusable, if for no reason other than their probable cost.

To show you what I mean, here is a mid-19th century recipe for condoms:

"Take the caecum of the sheep; soak it first in water, turn it on both sides, then repeat the operation in a weak ley (solution) of soda, which must be changed every four or five hours, for five or six successive times; then remove the mucous membrane with the nail; sulphur, wash in clean water, and then in soap and water; rinse, inflate and dry. Next cut it to the required length and attach a piece of ribbon to the open end. Used to prevent infection or pregnancy." United States Practical Receipt Book, p. 87 quoted from Reay Tannahill, Sex in History p. 411.

Not only can you visit Dudley castle, but there is a zoo on the premises.

Condom, France. You knew there was bound to be one, right?

Yes, there's really a town named Condom in southwestern France.

Condom is a town of 18th century mansions and Armagnac. No relations with the condom, really--but Armangac is made in July through September and if you drive 4 miles outside of town to the chateau of Cassigne you'll come upon the former residence of the Bishops of Condom, where you can visit the cellars and chateau and sample the brandy.

The Bishops of Condom--who'd have thought?

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