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“In the very midst of divine service masqueraders with grotesque faces, disguised as women, lions, and mummers, performed their dances, sang indecent songs in the choir, ate their greasy food from a corner of the altar near the priest celebrating mass, got out their games of dice, burned a stinking incense made of old shoe leather, and ran and hopped about all over the church.”In certain localities even the priests seem to have adhered to the “libertas decembrica,” as the Fools’ Holiday was called, in spite (or perhaps because?

When I first came across Adolf Bandelier’s classic on this subject, The Delight Makers, many years ago, I was struck by the European analogy of the carnival in the medieval Church, with its reversal of the hierarchic order, which is still continued in the carnivals held by student societies today.By the end of the twelfth century, the subdeacons’ dance had degenerated into a real festum stuttorum (fools’ feast).A report from the year I1g8 says that at the Feast of the Circumcision in Notre Dame, Paris, “so many abominations and shameful deeds” were committed that the holy place was desecrated “not only by smutty jokes, but even by the shedding of blood.” In vain did Pope Innocent III inveigh against the “jests and madness that make the clergy a mockery,” and the “shameless frenzy of their play-acting.” Two hundred and fifty years later (March 12, 1444), a letter from the Theological Faculty of Paris to all the French bishops was still fulminating against these festivals, at which “even the priests and clerics elected an archbishop OT a bishop or pope, and named him the Fools’ Pope” (fatuorum papam).At any rate, the various conciliar decrees issued from 1581 to 1585 forbade only the festum puerorum and the election of an episcopus puerorum.Finally, we must also mention in this connection the festum asinorum, which, so far as I know, was celebrated mainly in France.

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