A Reflection on Shoes

The other day as I was putting on my sneakers, I thought: I wonder who came up with the idea of shoes? So I decided to do a little research. 

shoe oldest leather

The oldest pair of leather shoes from 3,500 B.C. found in Armenia.

Anthropologists say humans began wearing shoes 26,000 to 40,000 years ago. The primary purpose of shoes, of course, is to protect the feet. Feet need protection because they come in direct contact with the ground with every step we take. The foot also has more bones than any single part of our body. A sore or injured foot can be a serious handicap. Ask anyone who has ever had a foot problem. But over time, shoes also became an item of decoration.

The oldest pair of shoes was discovered in a cave in Oregon, USA in 1938. They are a pair of sandals made between 8,000 and 7,000 B.C. The oldest pair of leather shoes was found in Armenia and were made about 3,500 B.C. Throughout history shoes have been made from all kinds of materials: papyrus, palm leaves, leather, wood, rice straw, corn husks, rubber, metal, canvas.

During the Middle Ages shoes became a symbol of authority or wealth. Kings, queens, and

The kind of shoes made popular by the French kings in the 17th and 18th century..

The kind of shoes made popular by the French kings in the 17th and 18th century.

other wealthy individuals wore heels or platform shoes to appear taller. (Note: even to this day we refer to someone who has money as being “well-heeled.”) The platform shoes (called chopines) were 7 or 8 inches high. They had a practical purpose too: they kept the feet off the dirty streets where sewage sometimes ran.

For centuries shoes were made by shoemakers, one at a time, in their little shops. Shoes began to be mass produced during the Napoleanic Wars when the British started manufacturing shoes for their army. Napoleon had said, “An army marches on its belly.” But the British knew an army also marches on its feet!

Shoes appear throughout the Bible. When Moses approaches the burning bush he is directed to remove his shoes, for he was standing on holy ground. To this day many religions require people to remove their shoes before entering their place of worship as a sign of respect. In the book of Ruth, her next of kin takes off his sandal and gives it to Boaz as a sign of the agreement they have made: Boaz will inherit Naomi’s lands (women could not inherit

A pair of 16th Century velvet Italian chopines.

A pair of 16th Century velvet Italian chopines.

anything) and Boaz would get Ruth for his wife as part of the deal. (Ruth 4:7-8). St. John the Baptist says of Jesus, “I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandal” (Mk. 1:7). And when Jesus sends the seventy-two disciples out, he says to them, “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals” (Lk. 10:4). They are to travel light and rely on the hospitality of the people they meet along the way.

Here are a few more facts about shoes:

1. For centuries, many shoes for the masses were made for either foot. People didn’t differentiate between left and right.

2. Today, because of our increased sensitivity to animals, many shoes are not made from leather but from synthetic fabrics and petrochemical-derived materials. This saves on cows, but these shoes are not bio-degradable and will hang around in our land fills for 1,000 years! Now shoe companies are making bio-degradable shoes. (You can find them listed online.)

The most famous shoes? The ruby slippers worn by Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."

Are these the most famous shoes of all? The ruby slippers worn by Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”

3. Today 63% of all shoes are made in China. Europe still dominates the market of higher-valued and higher priced shoes. (Where were your shoes made?)

4. St. Crispin, a third Century shoemaker and martyr whose feast is Oct. 25, is the patron saint of shoemakers. (In Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, the king gives a rousing speech before battle on St. Crispin’s day. You can listen to Kenneth Branagh’s version online. It’s wonderful! And yes, there is a Saint Crispin Shoe Company.)

5. There are an estimated 1.5 billion unused pairs of shoes sitting in American closets? (Are any sitting in yours?)

Another startling statistic: Today half the people in our world don’t own a single pair of shoes. Over 300 million of them are children. Some people are doing something about this. In 2004, a shoe executive named Wayne Elsey was watching the news about the terrible aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia. He saw an image of a single shoe washed up on the shore, and he was inspired to do something. He contacted other shoe company executives

300 million children today have no shoes.

300 million children today have no shoes.

and together they sent millions of shoes to that part of the world. Eventually Elsey founded Soles4Souls, a non-profit organization whose purpose is “to impact as many lives as possible with the gift of shoes.” So far this organization has distributed more than 5 million pairs of shoes in over 125 countries. (A $5 donation will give two pairs of shoes to someone. If you’re looking for an almsgiving practice for Lent, here’s one.)

Let us say a short prayer about shoes…

Good and gracious God, I thank you for the gift of my feet which I too often take for granted…I thank you also for the shoes I have to wear. May I never take my shoes for granted either… I ask that you make me more sensitive to my sisters and brothers who don’t own even a single pair of shoes—especially all those children. Help me to reach out to them in any way I can—through my prayer, my awareness, my concern, my sharing. And finally, Loving jesus feetGod,  every time I put on my shoes, I ask You to bless all the places my shoes will take me that day. May I be an instrument of peace, love, and joy wherever I step. I ask for these things through Jesus, whose heart was filled with compassion and whose feet were clad in sandals. Amen.

Did you find anything new or interesting in this reflection?

What role do shoes play in your life?


Here is a short Lenten reflection entitled, “Open My heart.” The phrase is sung over and over again with simple piano accompaniment. The images are from the southwest USA. We pray that, during this time of Lent, God may continue to open our heart to God’s word and to our neighbor’s need.



No Comments

  1. Kathleen Magiera on March 9, 2015 at 5:40 am

    I like the shoe theme. Sometimes, you never know where God is going to take you so put on your shoes and follow.

    Open my heart.


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:27 am

      Dear Kathleen, It’s so true: When we put on our shoes in the morning, we have no idea where they may take us! Thanks for writing!

  2. Dawn on March 9, 2015 at 9:28 am

    A wise friend told me once that friends are like shoes. You have a pair for running, a pair for church, old worn ones that you just can’t bear to throw away, and then those that you should really give up because they pinch your feet.

    It is an interesting analogy to think about. It also is beneficial to ponder about what type of shoe I am for others in my life?

    I hope you have a very blessed Lent. Thank you for your wonderful reflections, Sr. Melanie!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:26 am

      Dear Dawn, I liked your comparison of shoes to friends! And your question is a good one to reflect on. ..Thank you for expanding my reflection in such a worthwhile way! Sr. Melannie

  3. Barbara on March 9, 2015 at 10:07 am

    An interesting topic, Sister Melannie … one that did not overly concern me until the past couple of years. I am diabetic and I have had a series of foot infections which leave very slow healing (and recurring) wounds.
    Shoes have become the most important part of my wardrobe! They must have deep toe boxes (a term I had never heard before!) and they must be open-t0ed.
    Style is no longer important … comfort is! I am amazed at how many different kinds of shoes are available to correct foot problems. We have come a long way since the days when a shoe could be worn on either foot
    Thank you for sharing “Open My Heart.” It’s beautiful!
    God bless.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:25 am

      Dear Barbara, Thank you for sharing your personal experience with shoes. I can relate. I used to give talks in heels and “pumps.” Now I give talks in tie shoes and oxfords. Style has given way to comfort! God bless you–and your feet! Sr. Melannie

  4. Karen on March 9, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Shoes … my guilty pleasure!
    I was ready for you to refer to the classic salesman story about the two salesman sent to Ethiopia to sell shoes. The first cabled back after two weeks “Bring me home, the Ethiopians don’t wear shoes”. The second cabled “Send 10,000 pairs, the Ethiopians don’t wear shoes”. Same situation, same opportunity but seen in a totally different light by the two salesmen. We too have the opportunity to view every situation as an opportunity to “STEP IN” or not. I pray that God gives me the strength & courage to STEP IN when and where I’m needed.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:23 am

      Dear Karen, Well, we all have our little guilty pleasures…I enjoyed your story about the shoe salesmen. Great lesson there! And I liked your play on the phrase “step in.” Thank you for your contribution! Sr. Melannie

  5. Pat H. on March 9, 2015 at 10:57 am

    I remember going through the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and going through an entire room of shoes that were taken off men, women, and children before they were gassed during WWII. Thank you for helping me to recall just how special one pair of shoes can be and that others still need our help.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:20 am

      Dear Pat, I also toured the Holocaust Museum in D.C. years ago and was deeply moved by the room filled with shoes…Thank you for reminding me of this unforgettable sight…Sr. Melannie

  6. marietta samz on March 9, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Yes, I found many new and interesting things in this article–as usual in your weekly reflections. I was especially impressed and happy to see Soles4Souls organization.
    Thanks for your inspiring reflections.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:18 am

      Dear Marietta, I’m glad you too think this “stuff” is interesting! I know I do! Thank you for your kind words about my blog. Comments like yours keep me writing my blog every week! Sr. Melannie

  7. michelle c. on March 9, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    I love this reflection on shoes. I really did not think about them
    being made from synthetic materials. It just seems the more
    we have the more we think we need. So the shoes become
    cheaper but not do not last as long on our feet but stay forever
    in the landfills. Now that is sinful and a waste. Thank you for
    making me think about this and our ecology. Amen.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:16 am

      Dear Michelle, I’m glad you liked this reflection…I agree with your words: “It just seems the more we have the more we think we need.” I too never thought about investing in some bio-degradable shoes until I wrote this piece!…It was good hearing from you! Sr. Melannie

  8. Maggie Fioravanti on March 9, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    I have always liked shoes -probably because my dad managed a shoe store for years in Edinburgh,Scotland.I worked in his store–taking in shoes for mending and sometimes making change and sending it through tTHE SYSTEM in funny little tube things. I date from the era of metal tipped high heels when women were begged to remove their shoes because of the damage they did to flooring.
    I love the look of high heels and notice shoes on a person before I take in their eye colour.Sadly I am quite tall and towered over the wee Scottish lads so I needed to wear ‘flats’I also developed ‘.mallet toes’ which caused much discomfort and made it necessary to wear ‘things’ on my toes that put an end to ‘pointy toed’shoes for me.
    as I grow older I have become aware that kids are denied schooling in some cultures if their family can’t afford shoes and love the sound of the charity which buys 2 pairs for $5 00 I will look into that

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:14 am

      Dear Maggie, Thank you for sharing some of your thoughts on shoes. I too remember the time when our “spikes” ruined people’s floors!…and I too had to wear something in my shoes as a young girl to correct a foot problem. That was no picnic because I had to wear an oxford type shoe…I too wore flats to a few dances so I wouldn’t tower over my date! As you can see, we have a lot in common!…Thanks again for responding to this blog! Sr. Melannie

  9. Catherine on March 9, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Wonderful as always. I once had a session with my spiritual director that opened with us admiring each other’s shoes. Oh, what a path God took us on that day!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:10 am

      Dear Catherine, What a fascinating little story! It proves once again that God can use anything to start a conversation filled with grace! Thank you! Melannie

  10. Chris Keil on March 10, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    OK. I went home last night and cleaned out my closet, filling a box with shoes to donate!!
    Thank you for the reminder! Of course I probably could’ve filled TWO boxes, but I think it’s better to start out small!
    Thanks Sr. Melannie. Happy Lent!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2015 at 9:09 am

      Dear Chris, After I wrote this reflection, I did the same thing you did: I cleaned out the shoes in my closet! Thanks for writing! Melannie (your old religion and English teacher.)

  11. florenc on March 22, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    Sr Melannie, i just got my computer back from the GeekSquad,so I was anxious to read my e-mails.You never disappoint me.I so enjoyed your last two reflections. You are a gifted writer. I have told many of my friends about your blog.
    Today you have left me with a warm and comfortable feeling.
    God bless you. I would love to meet you in person.

Leave a Comment