The Unsettling ‘Celestial Bed’ That Would Cure All Your Ailments

“The Temple of Health and of Hymen . . . is still open as usual for the reception of patients, and for the sale and dispensation of the great and most efficacious Medicines therein prepared.” —James Graham, “Medical Transactions at the Temple of Health”

In A Nutshell

James Graham was a student of the University of Edinburgh and a student of electricity. In 1780, he opened the Temple of Health in London, followed by the Temple of Hymen the next year. One of his biggest, grandest therapies was the Celestial Bed, a massive bed covered with mirrors and lights, which would supposedly cure impotence and infertility. He also had pills for gas and depression, lotions for preventing sexually transmitted diseases, and pills for getting rid of the diseases when they’d already been caught. Turning to “earth-bathing” after his first bankruptcy, he ultimately died in Edinburgh after a long fast.

The Whole Bushel

There are a lot of individual words associated with James Graham. “Fanatic” and “impresario” are two, and sources seem to agree that he was at least “earnest” in his attempts at making London’s population happier, healthier, and more fertile.

Born in 1745, Graham was a highly prolific author and lecturer who invented one of the most audacious pieces of fertility equipment in the history of London: the Celestial Bed. The bed, a massive 3.5 meters (12 ft) long and 3 meters (9 ft) wide, was heralded as a cutting-edge solution for any couple having problems of the bedroom variety or unable to conceive.

Specifics of the therapy that went on in the Celestial Bed are lacking, but we do have some impressive descriptions of the bed itself. It was covered with a dome—also described as “celestial”—that contained a host of mystical, magical spices and aromas. Atop the dome stood figures of Psyche, Cupid, and Hymen, the Greek god of marriage. There were columns made of colored glass, mirrors, erotic paintings, organ music, and even flashing lights.

The bed could be tilted to whatever angle the good doctor deemed would be the most efficient for conception, and even the mattress was filled with only the most therapeutic of materials: new wheat or oat straw, rose leaves, lavender flowers, and hairs from the tails of English stallions.

That’s all that we know for sure, but there were also claims that the air in the room had more than perfume in it. Some claim that nitrous oxide was pumped into the room.

All that treatment wasn’t cheap; a night in the bed would set you back a hefty £50.

It was constructed after Graham had spent some time in the US, picking up wild ideas about electricity, magnetism, and new cures. He had returned to England to dive head-first into the world of trendy health clinics and cures, and the Celestial Bed was a centerpiece of his therapies. He also opened his London Temple of Health in 1780 and the Temple of Hymen in 1781.

There, visitors suffering from all kinds of aches and ailments could consult with him and learn about the wonders of what he called Electrical Aether, which he described as “a combination or concentration of all [nature’s] elementary powers, and vivifying influences.” This aether was housed in globes around his temples, acted on by electricity, and counted on to cure.

Graham had ethers and elixirs for all sorts of ailments, from his ethereal oil for weak nerves, an unsettled mind, discontent, depression, and the complaints that followed drinking bad wine to his electrical pills for gout, arthritis, and gas. He had an Amber Liquid for preventing sexually transmitted diseases, British Pills for getting rid of said diseases, and a Restorative Balmy Essence for curing impotence in men and barrenness in women.

For all his popularity, all his cures, and the wide range of illness and dysfunction he saw in his practice, he was bankrupt by 1784. Not one to give up, he pioneered another new, cutting-edge cure to put him back on the map two years later. By 1786, he was giving lectures on the benefits of “earth-bathing,” which was essentially being buried up to your neck in the ground, supposedly being cleansed by the powers of the Earth itself.

His earth-bathing lectures gradually became less and less popular (he usually lectured while taking an earth-bath himself), and he ultimately returned to Edinburgh and died in 1794 after fasting for a bit too long.

Show Me The Proof

Museum of London: The Celestial Bed installation by Bompas & Parr
Health, Disease and Society in Europe, 1500-1800, by Peter Elmer & Ole Peter Grell
Science Museum: James Graham
Romanticism and Science, 1773-1833, Volume 1, by Tim Fulford