A water doctor, a phenomenon of natural healing, in today’s words we could say the guru of world hydrotherapy – this is Vincenz Priessnitz.
Vincenz Priessnitz was born on October 4, 1799, into the family of the owner of a small farmstead in the village of Gräfenberk, 2 km from Jeseník. At the age of 16, after his father was blinded and his brother died, he was forced to take over the family farm, and his life seemed predestined. However, Vincenz took a different path. By observing nature, he gained experience that went beyond the knowledge of a peasant. He once noticed the behavior of an injured roe deer, who used to wash his wound in a forest well and thus became acquainted with the healing effects of cold water. When he fell under a horse-drawn carriage at the age of 17 and his wheels ran over his chest, the summoned healer declared the injury fatal. However Vincenz did not give up, he washed with spring water, and to the astonishment of doctors, he recovered. The news of this miracle spread quickly throughout the region, and people from near and far began to come to Gräfenberg and ask for help.
Vincenz Priessnitz did not refuse help. He corrected dislocated arms and legs, hemorrhages and fractures, and later rheumatism, gout, chronic constipation, liver and stomach diseases. A simple sponge wash became a symbol of his success, but also a thorn in the side of the local doctors, who identified him as an impostor and a charlatan. They filed a complaint against his unscientific method of healing, and in 1822 they succeeded in banning him from using the sponge. But even that did not stop Priessnitz from continuing his practice, which he believed was right. He started using bare hands and achieved even better results.
In the same year, Vincenz Priessnitz rebuilt his native house into a simple hydrotherapy institute. Despite protracted litigation and gossips, there was created the world’s first hydrotherapy spa at Gräfenberg. However, the final authorization was issued only in 1838, when his hydrotherapy method was accepted by the Imperial Commission in Vienna. Not only the number of healed patients but also the good reputation he gained at the imperial court in Vienna in consultation with the ailing Archduke Antonin, helped Vincenz Priessnitz to run the spa officially.
The year 1839 was the undisputed peak of the Priessnitz era. More than 1,500 patients were treated at Gräfenberg and 120 doctors from all over Europe came to study Priessnitz’s treatment methods. The spa guests included an aristocratic elite from all over Europe – the Hungarian Count Miklos Wesselenyi, the Russian novelist and playwright Nicolaj Vasiljevic Gogol, the world’s first physician Elisabeth Blackwell, King William of Prussia, King Charles I of Hohenzollern of Romania, Prince von Meclenburg, the Bavarian sculptor Ludwig Schwandthaler, Danish sculptor Hermann W. Bissen, Count Karel Nostic with his wife and daughter.
In 1846, Priessnitz was awarded the Imperial Grand Gold Medal of the First Class.
Vincenz Priessnitz died on November 28, 1851, leaving behind the legacy of the founder of modern hydrotherapy and natural healing in general. He was not only a world-famous water doctor but also a promoter of holistic treatment. Besides hydrotherapy, he promoted exercise therapy on the fresh air or work treatment (he is well known for prescribing chopping wood or snow removal).