How Europe Arranged Atrocious Courts: Animals?

In the Middle Ages and in modern times, there were regular trials of animals in Western Europe. Animal trials may seem like the height of idiocy (which they actually were), but the reasons for this can be explained if we take into account the superstitious mentality of medieval man. With the light hand of the Catholic Church from the end of the XIII century. the true cult of the devil was established in society. Satan was seen everywhere – in the actions of people, the behavior of animals, household items, even in natural phenomena. In addition, the principle “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was generally widespread.

Many animal lawsuits are documented in the classic “Golden Bough” by James George Fraser, an eminent British religious scholar, ethnographer, and anthropologist.

“In Europe, until comparatively recently, the lower animals fully bore equal responsibility with people before the law. Pets were tried in criminal courts and punished with death if the crime was proven; wild animals were subject to the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts, and the punishments to which they were subjected were exile and death by spell or ex-communication.

Let’s find out in more detail how it was …

These punishments were far from being funny if it is true that St. Patrick drove all the reptiles of Ireland into the sea with spells or turned them into stones, and that St. Bernard, having weaned off the flies buzzing around him, laid them all dead on the floor of the church. The right to bring domestic animals to justice was based, like on a stone rock, on the Jewish law from the Book of the Covenant (“I will also seek your blood, in which is your life, I will demand it from every beast” (Genesis, chapter 9, verse 5)). In each case, a lawyer was appointed to protect the animals, and the entire process – trial, sentence, and execution – was carried out with the strictest observance of all forms of legal proceedings and the requirements of the law. Thanks to the research of French antiquities lovers, the protocols of 92 trials that passed through the courts of France between the 12th and 18th centuries were published. The last victim in France to this, one might say, Old Testament justice was a cow, which was sentenced to death in 1740 of our chronology ”.

If the Inquisition preferred the good old fire, then the secular courts chose the most different executions – in accordance with the severity of the crime. So, a donkey, brazenly devoured lettuce leaves in someone else’s garden, was sentenced to ear deprivation. The Austrian court sentenced the dog that bit the official to “one year and one day in prison.” Two killer pigs were buried alive in the ground.

In most cases, however, they were limited to a public hanging. It happened that the animals were even dressed in clothes so that everything looked “like people.”

Throughout the process, the tetrapods were in solitary confinement. All the ceremonies were observed – down to the smallest detail. In the archives of the French city of Melun, a report on the costs of the execution of a pig has been preserved: “Feeding a pig in prison: 6 Parisian pennies. Further – to the executioner … to carry out the sentence: 54 Parisian pennies. Further – the payment for the cart on which the pig was delivered to the scaffold: 6 Parisian pennies. Further – the payment for the rope on which the pig was hanged: 2 Parisian pennies and 8 denarii. Further – for gloves: 2 Parisian denarii. ”

But criminal courts are only a small fraction of the processes. The church also did not stand aside, conducting mass judgments on animals. In these courts, the defendants were flies, caterpillars, locusts, cats, fish, leeches, and even May beetles.

Over the last garden pests, also called Khrushchev, in 1479 in Lausanne (Switzerland) a loud trial took place, which lasted two years. By a court decision, the six-legged criminals were ordered to immediately leave the country.

In Lausanne, such trials were held with enviable regularity. In addition to May beetles, for example, caterpillars were tried there. When the latter devastated this district, by order of the bishop, they were “summoned to court” three times by bell ringing. At the same time, the laity knelt down and, having uttered the words of the prayers “Our Father” and “Theotokos Virgin, rejoice,” three times, turned to divine help. And although the caterpillars still did not appear in court, a specially appointed lawyer defended their interests. The “case”, of course, was won by the community. According to the verdict, the caterpillars, which became the refuge of the devil, were solemnly cursed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and they were ordered to leave all fields and disappear. It was not so. The defendants, according to the testimony of the chronicles, “found that it was more convenient for them to continue living on the soil of Lausanne, and ignored the curses.”

Despite the caterpillars’ ignorance of church sentences, the idea of ​​summoning them to court appealed to them. So, in 1516, the inhabitants of the city of Vilnoz also sued the caterpillars. The verdict ordered the caterpillars to leave the vineyards and lands of Vilnose within six days, threatening them with a church curse in case of disobedience.

In 1519, a trial against field mice began at Glournes. The mice lost the case. The court ruled that “harmful animals called field mice are obliged to leave arable lands and meadows and move to another place within 14 days.”

And in the same Lausanne, having done away with the caterpillars, in 1541 they filed a case against leeches, which began to multiply at an unprecedented rate, and as soon as they set foot in a puddle, dozens of bloodsuckers immediately dug into the leg.

The scheme of the processes was usually the same: after the obvious three times failure of the defendants – mice, beetles, or caterpillars – to appear in court, the court had to make a judgment in absentia. In it, the guilty, under fear of terrifying spells from the church pulpit, were ordered to leave a certain area in due time. However, sometimes the same caterpillars were brought to court in large numbers. As delegates from the “diabolical caterpillar community.”

Trials with mass defendants usually took a long time. If isolated creatures were accused, then retribution for witchcraft deeds overtook them quickly.

But most of all the cats were unlucky. Cats, unfortunately, suited the role of devilish creatures better than anyone else: walking alone at night, heartbreaking screams, eyes glowing in the dark. All in all, impious behavior. Here any fool understands that the devil could not do without.

In addition to the inquisitorial tribunals and secular courts, massive extrajudicial killings were also organized over cats. In February, the city of Ypres hosted an annual festival called the “month of cats”, when live cats were thrown from the central bell tower of the city. In case the beast remained alive, a pack of dogs was on duty below.

Festivals similar to those of Ypres existed in many regions of Western Europe: Flanders, Schleswig-Holstein, Upper Silesia, etc.

The day of the feast of St. John acquired particular fame. On June 24, gallows for cats were erected in many city squares in France, and bonfires were blazing in many cities. In Paris, a high pillar was erected on the Place de Grève. A sack or barrel containing two dozen cats was hung overhead. Large logs, branches, and bundles of hay were laid out around the post. Everything was set on fire, and in front of hundreds of merry loafers, the poor animals roasted, uttering terrible screams.

In the Ardennes (France), cats were burned at the stake on the first Sunday of Lent.

The Inquisition and ordinary “conscientious citizens” tortured and killed innocent “satanic offspring” in such quantities that the cats were threatened with almost complete destruction. By the XIV century. there were so few cats left that they could no longer cope with the rats that carried the bubonic plague. Epidemics began, which, of course, were not blamed on the Inquisition, but on the Jews (it was believed that the cause of the plague was that Jews poisoned wells). It was their “specialization” “to be responsible” for the epidemics, “carefully” assigned to them by the Catholic Church and the secular authorities.

In a wave of pogroms that swept across Europe, an angry mob of smerds destroyed about 200 Jewish communities. It did not help. Then they switched to witches and began to burn them with incredible zeal, for which the degenerate Pope Innocent VIII on December 5, 1484, publishes the savage bull Summis Desiderantes. Now witches and heretics will burn at the fires of the Inquisition until the 18th century. Together with cats. The rats multiplied even more. The result is known – up to half of Europe’s population died from the plague. The second half of the population, who did not die from the plague, at that time no longer cares about cats. Cats begin to multiply, the number of rats and mice decreases, the plague subsides, and … the destruction of the “devil’s offspring” resumes with renewed vigor and with the same zeal. Mice and rats happily watch from their holes as cats accused of collaboration with witches and the devil disappear again one after another and perish at the hands of the Inquisition and ordinary well-behaved Christians. Good mood promotes good appetite – at the beginning of the 16th century. rats and mice consume almost all crops in Burgundy. Hunger sets in. And so on, in a vicious circle.

The church, as usual, is fighting the trouble with the old, proven method – calling the rats to court. The epic trial in the Autun ecclesiastical district court, where the rats were called to account, was supposed to solve the problem with the vile creatures once and for all. The trial was loud, rather lengthy, the courtroom was shocked with evidence of the horrific atrocities of the rats. But the court did not increase the harvest and slowly faded away by itself, bringing new laurels only to the lawyer.

And the surviving part of the population, tired of inconclusively burning witches and cats, suing rats, and smashing Jews, comes up with a new enemy of Christianity – werewolves. In “enlightened Europe” the next holy war begins the fight against werewolves.

Alice White

Written by Alice White

Alice White, a devoted pet lover and writer, has turned her boundless affection for animals into a fulfilling career. Originally dreaming of wildlife, her limited scientific background led her to specialize in animal literature. Now she happily spends her days researching and writing about various creatures, living her dream.

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