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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Bloody Sweat.

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According to Luke 22:44, our Lord's sweat was "as great drops of blood falling to the ground." Michaelis takes the passage to mean nothing more than that the drops were as large as falling drops of blood (Anmerfir Ungelehrte, ad loc.). This, which also appears to be a common explanation, is liable to some objection. For, if an ordinary observer compares a fluid which he is accustomed to see colorless, to blood, which is so well known and so well characterized by its color, and does not specify any particular point of resemblance, he would more naturally be understood to allude to the color, since it is the most prominent and characteristic quality. There are several cases recorded by the older medical writers under the title of bloody sweat. With the exception of one or two instances, not above suspicion of fraud, they have, however, all been cases of general haemorrhagic disease, in which blood has flowed from different parts of the body, such as the nose, eyes, ears, lungs, stomach, and bowels, and, lastly, from various parts of the skin. The greater number of cases de, scribed by authors were observed in women and children, and sometimes in infants. The case of a young lady who was afflicted with cutaneous haemorrhage is detailed by Mesaporiti in a letter to Valisneri. She is noticed to have been cheerful, although she must have suffered greatly from debility and febrile symptoms (Phl . Trans. No. 303, p. 2114). The case of an infant, only three months old, affected with the same disease, is related by Du Gard (Phil. Trans. No. 109, p. 193). A similar case is described in the Nov. Act. Acad. Nat. Cur. 4:193. See also Eph. Acad. Nat. Cur. obs. 41; and, for other references, Copland's Dict. of Med. ii, 72. Where hemorrhagic diathesis exists, muscular exertion, being a powerful exciting cause of all kinds of haemorrhage, must likewise give rise to the cutaneous form of the disease.

The above are all instances of a chronic nature, resulting from a general diseased state of the blood vessels, and are therefore little in point as illustrating the case of our Saviour, whose emotions were the cause of this temporary phenomenon while in full health. (See AGONY). A late ingenious and careful writer, whose profession qualifies him to judge in the matter (The Physical Cause of the Death of Christ, by Wm. Stroud, M.D., London, 1847), thus maintains the possibility of proper bloody sweat, under strong mental exertion, especially in cases of anxiety and terror. The author, in brief, gives us the rationale of this phenomenon, and then cites a number of cases in which it has actually occurred: " Perspiration, both sensible and insensible, takes place from the mouths of small regularly organized tubes, which perforate the skin in all parts of the body, terminating in blind extremities internally, and by innumerable orifices on the outer surface. These tubes are surrounded by a net-work of minute vessels, and penetrated by the ultimate ramifications of arteries which, according to the force of the local circulation, depending chiefly on that of the heart, discharge either the watery parts of the blood in the state of vapor, its grosser ingredients in the form of a glutinous liquid, or, in extreme cases, the entire blood itself. The influence of the invigorating passions, more especially in exciting an increased flow of blood to the skin, is familiarly illustrated by the process of blushing, either from shame or anger; for during this state the heart beats strongly, the surface of the body becomes hot and red, -and, if the emotion is very powerful, breaks out into a warm and copious perspiration, the first step toward a bloody sweat" (Physical Cause, p. 85, 86). (See SWEAT).

The following instances of diapedesis, or sweating of blood, show that the author's philosophy is not without its accompanying facts. Brevity allows us only a condensed statement of a few of the instances cited by him (p. 379 sq.). An Italian officer, in 1552, threatened with a public execution, " was so agitated at the prospect of an ignominious death that he sweated blood from every part of his body." A young Florentine, unjustly ordered to be put to death by Pope Sixtus V, when led to execution, "through excess of grief, was observed to shed bloody tears, and to discharge blood instead of sweat from his whole body; a circumstance which many regarded as certain proof that nature condemned the severity of a sentence so cruelly hastened, and invoked vengeance against the magistrate himself, as therein guilty of murder." In the Ephemerides, it is stated that "a young boy, who, having taken part in a crime for which two of his elder brothers were hanged, was exposed to public view under the gallows on which they were executed, and was there observed to sweat blood from his whole body." Maldonato mentions "a robust and healthy man at Paris, who, on hearing sentence of death passed upon him, was covered with a bloody sweat."

Other instances of the same kind also are on record. Schenck gives the case of " a nun who fell into the hands of soldiers; and on seeing herself encompassed with swords and daggers, threatening instant death, was so terrified and agitated that she discharged blood from every part of her body, and died of haemorrhage in the sight of her assailants." The case of a sailor is also given, who " was so alarmed by a storm that through fear he fell down, and his face sweated blood, which, during the whole continuance of the storm, returned like ordinary sweat." Catharine Merlin, of Chambery, at the age of forty-six, being strong and hale, received a kick from a bullock in the pit of the stomach, which was followed by vomiting blood. This having been suddenly stopped by her medical attendants, the blood made its way through the pores of various parts of her body, the discharge recurring usually twice in twenty-four hours. It was preceded by a prickly sensation, and pressure oh the skin would accelerate the flow and increase the quantity of blood. The Medico Chirurgical Review for Oct. 1831, gives the case of a female subject to hysteria, who, when the hysteric paroxysm was protracted, was also subject to this bloody perspiration. And in this case she continued at different times to be affected with it for three months, when it gave way to local bleeding and other strong repulsive measures.

But the case of the wretched Charles IX of France is one of the most striking that has as yet occurred. The account is thus given by De Mezeray: "After the vigor of his youth and the energy of his courage had long struggled against his disease, he was at length reduced by it to his bed at the castle of Vincennes, about the 8th of May, 1574. During the last two weeks of his life his constitution made strange efforts. He was affected with spasms and convulsions of extreme violence. He tossed and agitated himself continually, and his blood gushed from all the outlets of his body, even from the pores of his skin; so that on one occasion he was found bathed in a bloody sweat." From these and other instances that might be cited, it is clearly evident that the sweating of blood may be produced by intense mental emotion. The instances of it are comparatively rare, it is true, but, nevertheless, perfectly well authenticated. (See BLOOD AND WATER).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Bloody Sweat.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/bloody-sweat.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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