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Attitudes to prostitution have oscillated throughout the ages. Often they were determined by the immediate interests of the Church. Biblical passages like the one above could be used or ignored according to taste: those who wanted to ignore it could claim that it applied only to married women, or only to Jewish women, or that the provision had been over-ridden by the New Testament. So it was that the Church could embrace prostitution when it suited, as it did for financial reasons.
Pope Julius II was said to have been so impressed by the one in Avignon that he founded a similar one in Rome 1. Prostitution was regarded as a lesser evil than sodomy, so brothels were sometimes founded in order to encourage heterosexual sex. Following a series of clerical reports in , an Office of Decorum was set up in Florence to reduce endemic homosexual activity. One of its tasks was to set up a municipal brothel. The Church certainly leased property to brothel keepers. In the late Middle Ages the papacy netted 28, ducats a year from such property 2.
The Church seems to have taken some pride in its promotion of prostitution, as for example at Lyons. We have made great improvements since we have been here. When we arrived, we found three or four brothels. We are leaving only one behind us. We must add, however, that this one brothel stretches from the east to the west gate 3.
At the Council of Basle held between and , some 1, prostitutes serviced the Fathers of the Council. In England the Bishop of Winchester was so well known for his brothels called "stews" in Southwark that prostitutes in his 22 licensed stews came to be known as Winchester Geese.
To have been bitten by a Winchester Goose was to have contracted the great pox i. Secularists recognised the scandal, even if ecclesiastics did not. Rome as well as Avignon housed brothels. The following is an extract about Rome under Pope Alexander VI, written by the Pope's own master of ceremonies in There is no longer any crime or shameful act that does not take place in public in Rome and in the house of the pontiff.