The Pope and the Sneeze
February 16, 600 AD - On this day Pope Gregory the Great decreed that the proper way to respond to someone sneezing was to say, "God bless you."
Pope Gregory had reluctantly ascended to the papacy as the Black Death was decimating the population of Rome. His predecessor, Pope Pelasius II, had died of the Plague, and at first Gregory didn't want to replace him. He tried to hide in a cave, but his followers rousted him and he finally accepted the lofty role.
One of his first orders of business was to send his ministers out into the streets, praying for an end to the suffering. The Plague would kill as many 100 million people in the Mediterranean between 540 and 700 AD.
The number of new cases did decrease during Pope Gregory's 13 years on the Throne of Peter. He died in 604, but the custom of saying, "God bless you" has endured ever since.
For another story about sneezing, check out the girl who sneezed for 3 years straight.