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The Feast of Fools

04:52 Jan 04 2014
Times Read: 365


Irish Medieval History


The Feast of Fools was celebrated throughout Europe and particularly in France on or about January 1st. A wild festival where strict Christian morals were abandoned and ridiculous rites were practised. The Feast of Fools included absurd traditions such as choosing a young boy and conferring titles such as "Pope of Fools", "Archbishop of Dolts", "Abbot of Unreason" and more. The highest local church officials were relegated to the status of servants for the day and many ridiculous ceremonies were performed. The license and buffoonery which people took had their roots in the Roman festival of Saturnalia when it was customary during the month of December for slaves and serving-maids to have a sort of liberty given them and were put upon equality with their masters.


John Beleth, a 12th century writer explains the festival thus "now the license which is then permitted is called Decembrian, because it was customary of old among the pagans that during this month slaves and serving-maids should have a sort of liberty given them, and should be put upon an equality with their masters, in celebrating a common festivity.”


In the Irish founded town now in modern Switzerland called St. Gallen (St. Gall) it was recorded in the tenth century that it was traditional for a student to play the part the abbot on the thirteenth of December each year. In Ireland the New Year began on March 25th which shifted to April the 5th after the Gregorian calendar reforms were introduced in 1752. Like on the continent the Feast of Fools was celebrated around the New Year and when New Year shifted to January 1st the Feast of Fools stayed where it was and became April Fool’s day.


The story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo begins on Epiphany (6 January), 1482, the day of the Feast of Fools in Paris, France. Quasimodo, a deformed hunchback who is the bell-ringer of Notre Dame, is introduced by his crowning as the Pope of Fools.


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