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    Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals, they are without sin, while you defile the earth by your appearance on it ...
    Fëdor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov


    Churches, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, have historically denied that animals have any rights. This view was buttressed by the Christian doctrine that animals do not have souls, and the belief that God gave mankind absolute power over animals:

    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Genesis 1:26

    God was not interested in animals or the cruelties perpetrated on them by humans. God himself had drowned innumerable innocent animals when he flooded the world to punish humankind. Samson, one of the Hebrew judges appointed by God, burned down his enemies" crops, vineyards and olive groves by tying hundreds of foxes together, tail-to-tail in pairs, setting light to them, and letting them loose in the fields (Judges 15:3-5).

    Noah's Ark - God killed almost all land animals without qualm.
    For Christians drowning animals could not be immoral because animals had no souls.
    If God could kill billions of animals without qualm, why should Christians not do the same?

    "Doth God take care for oxen?" asked St Paul (1 Corinthians 9:9), inviting an answer in the negative (his point is that divine laws about oxen are made for the benefit of man). God might be aware of every sparrow, but in the Bible he cares little for the welfare of them or any other animal. God frequently instructed the Jews to kill not only his enemies but also their animals. Jesus himself was responsible for the deaths of around 2,000 animals, when he caused a herd of someone else's pigs to rush into a lake and drown (Mark 5:11-13). As a Cambridge don noted in the eighteenth century, if Jesus had done that in Cambridgeshire, the law of England would have required him to swing for it.

    Jesus commands devils to leave their human host and decamp into the Gadarene Swine. (Mark, 5:9)
    You can see the demons represented here riding their new porcine hosts into the lake to drown.
    German, Gospel Book of Otto III, c. 1000, Illumination, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.

    Saint Augustine (354 – 430) argued that Jesus permitting the Gadarene swine to drown demonstrated that mankind has no duty of care toward animals: "Christ himself shows that to refrain from the killing of animals and the destroying of plants is the height of superstition ..."a. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) followed Augustine's position: "If in Holy Scripture there are found some injunctions forbidding the infliction of some cruelty toward brute animals ... this is either for removing a man's mind from exercising cruelty towards other men ... or because the injury inflicted on animals turns to a temporal loss for some man ..."b

    The behaviour of Luis Caldera, a Franciscan missionary, was entirely in keeping with Christian teachings. As he could not speak local American languages he illustrated the doctrine of Hell by putting animals into ovens and then lighting fires underneath them. The cries and howls of the tortured animals terrified the indigenous inhabitants — exactly as he intended. No Christian found this practice at all unethical.

    Medieval Christians believed a vast range of nonsense about the natural world, and expressed no concern about hunting animals to extinction. The beaver for example became extinct in Britain because of hunting - its testicles were used in Medieval Christian medicine. The following text comes from the Aberdeen Bestiary: "There is an animal called the beaver, which is extremely gentle; its testicles are are highly suitable for medicine. Physiologus says of it that, when it knows that a hunter is pursuing it, it bites off its testicles and throws them in the hunter’s face and, taking flight, escapes. But if, once again, another hunter is in pursuit, the beaver rears up and displays its sexual organs. When the hunter sees that it lacks testicles, he leaves it alone."
    The illustration below is castor dicitur a castrando (the beaver’s self-castration),
    Bestiary, Salisbury 13th century. British Library, Harley 4751, fol. 9v


    The Church has always smiled upon barbarous practices perpetrated upon animals. It has sometimes associated itself with them, courting the popularity as a patron of this form of entertainment, for example providing venues, providing religious explanations for the proceedings, reserving certain forms of animal torture for specific Christian feast days, blessing the proceedings, and including depictions of animal torture in church art.


    Bear Baiting

    Bear baiting was such a regular part of ordinary life when the population was 100% Christian that it featured as decoration in Churches, abbeys and cathedrals, even on religious shrines. A bear was chained to a stake so that its range was restricted, and dogs were set on it. Depending on the size and fighting prowess of the bear more and more dogs could be released to match the bear's fighting power. The bloody spectacle provided fun for all, men, women, children and priests. Animal cruelty was one of the few public enjoyments that the Church did not seek to ban.

    Bear baiting depicted on a 14th century Christian shrine
    Carving on the gallery over the shrine of St. Alban, St. Albans Cathedral, St. Albans, England


    Bear Baiting depicted in a religious Christian work, The Louterell Psalter, c1300
    British Library, Additional MS 42130, Folio 161r Bear-baiting.
    Dogs are urged to attack the chained and muzzled bear

    In London the favourite location for public torture of animals was to the South of the City in an area controlled by the Bishop of Winchester. It was here that the Right Reverend Lord Bishop sustained his fortune, licensing his Winchester Geese (prostitutes) and various theatres: specialist theatres for acting, specialist theatres for torturing bulls and specialist theatres for torturing bears.

    Bears were also tortured at fairs in the open air. The bear is chained to a stake,
    to keep the spectacle in a fixed place and keep the Christian spectators safe.


    Images of a medieval and a later bear baiting theatre in Southwark, south of the river Thames

    In this Elizabethan illustration on the right, three theatres are shown together: from left to right the bear baiting theatre (also shown above right), the Rose Theatre and the Globe Theatre.

    Henry Thomas Alken, Bear Baiting, published by Thomas McLean, 1820


    Detail from Bear Baiting, by Samuel Henry Gordon Alken
    Bear baiting continued without any form of check during the whole Christian period,
    up until Enlightenment ideas become dominant in the nineteenth century.


    Bear baiting sometimes took place in "pits" fenced off from the public - hence the phrase "bear-pit" by analogy the term is also used for any unusually aggressive political arena in which direct, heated attacks are common.

    Bull baiting also took place throughout Europe, both in the open air and in dedicated theatres, more commonly known as bull rings. The locations of these bull rings is often preserved in place names, such as the Bull Ring in Birmingham and Bull Ring Road in Leeds,

    Adjacent Bull-baiting and Bear-Baiting Rings, Bankside, London c.1560


    Bull Baiting

    Bull Baiting was popular through the Middle Ages and up to secular times. It was patronised by all classes of people, including priests, from the rich to the poor. Almost every town and village in England had its bull ring. Bulls, horses, and other animals were trained for baiting. It was a highlight of market days, wakes, fairs, and church festivals. The animal would be tied with collar and rope, and tormented by ferocious bulldogs. At other times, the dogs were used by hunters to catch game and by butchers, and by farmers to bring down wayward cattle. It was believed then that sending a dog out after a bull would tenderise the meat.

    A 1822 a law passed to prevent the cruel treatment of cattle was the first legislation for animal welfare in the world. In 1835, the Protection of Animals Act made bull, bear and badger baiting, as well as cock fighting and dog fighting illegal. The legislation covered cruelty to domestic and captive animals, not too wild ones. In 1876 a Cruelty to Animals Act was passed - but there was still no progress for wild animals. At each stage, Christians objected to the legislation on the grounds that man owed no obligation to animals. The traditional position was cited by clergymen - that animals had no souls and so could not feel pain.

    Bull Baiting
    Bulls were also chained while being baited, to stop them running away and to localise the spectacle.


    Badger Baiting

    Badgers were also baited. A baiting session typically resulted in the death of the badger, and often serious injuries to the dogs. Badgers have powerful claws, used for digging in hard earth, and capable of injuring a dog. "Drawing the badger" was a way to test a badger-baiting dog. The badger was enclosed and the dog introduced into a tunnel leading to the enclosure. Usually the dog was seized immediately by the badger and the dog in turn gripped the badger. Each bit, tore and pulled the other. The two were separated and the badger returned to its den. The dog was sent back in to seize the badger and it was again drawn out with the badger. This drawing was repeated over and over. The more often a dog was able to seize the badger within a minute, so that both could be pulled out together, the more it was considered up to the task and considered game.

    For traditional Christians animals could be tortured for pleasure.
    They had no immortal souls and had been made for humankind to use as they wished.
    Animal torture of all kinds was popular throughout the full period of Christian domination of morality.
    Fool and dog, Royal 19 D VI f. 267v, (1418-1420), British Library, London


    Rat Baiting

    Rat Baiting was another activity regarded as acceptable for Christians, except by Puritans who opposed it on the grounds that all entertainment was wrong.

    Rat Baiting.


    Dog Fighting

    Dogs could be tortured themselves, and also used to torture each other, and other animals.

    Henry Thomas Alken, Badger Baiting, London, c. 1824, coloured print + black & white detail

    Drawing the badger came to England in the 18th century and soon became a very popular side-show in the pit. It provided a new opportunity to win or lose money by betting. Drawing the badger thus became a permanent part of the fight in the pit. Some dog breeds were specifically developed for badger-baiting, notably the Dachshund.

    Apart from the cruelty towards badgers, dogs are also brutalised. Dogs usually suffered injuries of the face and neck. In some cases, the injuries were such that the dogs had to be put down. Badger baiting was outlawed in the United Kingdom in 1835, just after the Great Reform Act had shifted power away from the traditional Christian centres of power. As Badger-baiting declined it was replaced by dog fighting.



    Dog fights, like other forms of animal torture, drew large crowds


    Dog Fighting in the nineteenth century on the Tottenham Court Road, London


    Cock Fighting

    Up until the latter part of the twentieth century the teaching of all Christian Churches has been that animals exist for the benefit of humankind, and humankind is at liberty to treat them as it likes. A range of animal cruelty has been accepted during the Christian period. Cock fighting for example always been a popular Christian pastime

    The illustration on the right shows a cockfight on the sarcophagus of St Agnese. "Two cocks fighting: striving for Christ and the palm of glory."1

    Saint Augustine of Hippo appreciated cockfighting, and imagined that God guided the birds in attacking each other:: "in every motion of these animals unendowed with reason there was nothing ungraceful since, of course another, higher, reason was guiding everything they did".


    Medieval children enjoying the sport of cock fighting.
    From the Romance of Alexander, MS. Bodl. 264, pt. I .folio 050r


    Sunday Cockfight in Madrid.


    Royal Cock Pit, Microcosm of London, Plate 018,


    Cock fighting remained a Christian favourite sport for even longer than other forms of animal cruelty. Throughout western Europe cocks were bred for fighting each other. The birds, referred to as gamecocks, are specially bred birds, selected for stamina and strength. The comb and wattle are cut off in order to remove anatomical vulnerabilities (similar to the traditional practice of docking a dog's tail and ears). Cocks possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species. As a blood sport Cockfighting is regulated in many countries, but still defended as an "age old sport"[ with cultural and religious relevance. Cock fighting was made illegal in Louisiana as late as 2008.


    Special spurs made of metal and designed to act like knives are bound to the feet of gamebirds to supplement their own natural (smaller and less damaging) spurs and cause major physical damage to the other cock.


    Cock Throwing

    Cock throwing, also known as cock-shying or throwing at cocks, was a blood sport widely practised in England until the 19th century. A cockerel was held or tied to a post, and people took turns throwing coksteles (special weighted sticks) at the bird until it died. Cock throwing was traditionally associated with the Christian activities of Shrove Tuesday. It was a popular pastime with people of all classes, especially with children. Sir Thomas More, now a Roman Catholic saint, referred to his skill in casting a cokstele as a boy. Cock throwing's popularity waned in England during the secular Enlightenment, as social values changed and animal welfare became a concern.

    William Hogarth depicted cock throwing as a barbarous activity, the first stage in a "slippery slope"
    in The Four Stages of Cruelty, Children Torturing Animals (detail) 1751.

    Cock throwing was commonly practiced at public and grammar schools, including Church schools, as elsewhere, on Shrove Tuesday. If the bird had its legs broken or was lamed during the event, it was sometimes supported with sticks in order to prolong the "sport". The cock was also sometimes placed inside an earthenware jar to prevent it from moving. Variations on the theme included goose quailing (or squailing), when a goose was substituted, and cock thrashing or cock whipping, which involved a cock being placed in a pit where the blindfolded participants would attempt to hit it with their sticks.

    Wellington represented as the cock in this cartoon depicting cock throwing from around the 1820s

    By the early 19th century, as Christianity started to lose influence, the tradition declined rapidly, lingering into the 1840s.

    In some places, especially Christian schools, bows and arrows were used instead of coksteles. James Clegg, writing in his diary about Shrove Tuesday at Rochdale Grammar School in 1686, says “…ye young men of ye upper end of the school were shooting with bows and arrows at a cock, and the rest of us made a lane for the arrows to pass-through.” The practice was first mentioned in How the Good Wive taught hir Doughter (1430). Shooting at cockerels was abolished at Manchester Grammar School in 1867.


    Fox, Cat, Dog .... Tossing

    Fox tossing was a popular competitive blood sport in parts of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, which involved throwing live foxes (or cats, dogs and or other animals) high into the air. It was practiced by members of the aristocracy in an enclosed piece of ground often a courtyard, using slings with a person on each end to catapult the animal upwards. The outcome for the tossed animals was invariably fatal, one way or another. They would be clubbed to death if they did not die of their fall injuries.

    A fox-tossing tournament of the early 18th century, depicted in Der vollkommene deutsche Jäger (1719). You can see some foxes i the air, some injured on the ground.

    Fox tossing would take place within a circle of canvas screens in the open or by using the courtyard of a castle or palace. Pairs of people would stand six to seven and a half metres (20 to 25 feet) apart, holding the ends of a sling laid flat on the ground. An animal such as a fox would then be released from a cage and driven with a whip through the arena, across the slings. As it crossed a sling the participants pulled hard on the ends, throwing the animal high into the air. Those who slung a fox the highest, or slung the most foxes would win.

    German aristocrats engaged in fox tossing or Fuchsprellen (lit. "fox bouncing").

    Part of the fun was that a fox might land on the throwers,
    as has happened here in the bottom left of the illustration.

    Augustus II the Strong, the Christian King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, held a tossing contest in Dresden at which 647 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers and 21 wildcats were tossed and killed. Other rulers also participated in the sport. The Swedish envoy Esaias Pufendorf, witnessing a fox-tossing contest held in Vienna in March 1672, noted in his diary seeing the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I joining the court dwarfs and boys in clubbing to death the injured animals. The sport was especially popular as an activity for mixed couples, with the rivalry between the couples adding to the entertainment. On occasion, tossing formed part of a costumed masquerade in which the tossed animal as well as the participants would be decorated and masked.

    The partipants were all Christian. No Christian is recorded as having considered this mass animal torture and killing at all immoral, except of course for Puritans, on the grounds that Christians should not be enjoying themselves.


    Goose Pulling

    Goose pulling (also called gander pulling, goose riding or pulling the goose) was a blood sport practiced in parts of the Netherlands, Belgium, England and North America up to the the 19th century. The sport involved fastening a live goose with a well-greased head to a rope or pole that was stretched across a road. A man riding on horseback at a full gallop would attempt to grab the bird by the neck in order to pull the head off. Sometimes a live hare was used instead of a goose. Like many other forms of cruelty it was especially associated with the Church festival of Shrove Tuesday. It is still practised today using an already dead goose in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as part of traditional Shrove Monday celebrations. Philip Parsons, writing in 1771, described how it was carried out in England using a cock instead of a goose:

    In the Northern parts of England it is no unusual diversion to tie a rope across a street and let it swing about the distance of ten yards from the ground. To the middle of this a living cock is tied by the legs. As he swings in the air, a set of young people ride one after another, full speed, under the rope, and rising in the stirrups, catch at the animal's head, which is close clipped and well soaped, in order to elude the grasp. Now he who is able to keep his seat in his saddle, and his hold of the bird's head, so as to carry it off in his hand, bears away the palm, and becomes the noble hero of the day.

    The sport was challenging: the bird's flailing made it difficult to target and the oiling of the goose's neck made it difficult to retain a grip on the bird. Many riders missed altogether; others broke the goose's neck without snapping off the head.

    Modern Goose pulling


    Cat Burning

    In the medieval and early modern periods cats were associated with witchcraft. They were often killed during Christian celebrations, either by being thrown off church towers or by being burned alive, often by the dozen, as agents of the Devil. Practice in Ypres (modern Belgium) was typical, but the town is unusual in having retaned a sanitised version of cat torture called kattenstoen. As the town's website explains:

    The earliest descriptions of cat throwing can be found in the city chronicles of the years 1410-1420. The Ypres chronicles often link the cat throwing with the Ascension fair that already existed in 1127. After the fair was moved to the second week of the Lent in 1476, the cats were thrown on 'Cats' Wednesday'. One chronicle states that the animals were first thrown off the St Martin's church and since 1231 from the Belfry tower. According to another chronicle the latter tower was not finished until 1304. From texts in the diary of Augustus van Hernighem, a chronicle writer, it can be deducted that the number of thrown cats had a symbolic value. More cats were killed in years the city was not that prosperous than in good years. In 1594 for example, a year when things looked up, only three cats were thrown. It is not clear why. Jean Jacques Lambin, an Ypres archivist who died in 1841 witnessed the cats throwing several times. He was there when living cats were thrown off the tower for the last time in 1817. According to Lambin the very last living cat survived the fall. The little animal scampered as fast as it could, not ready to be caught once more for the same purpose. From 1817 until the First World War all that remained of the Cat festival in Ypres was the playing of the carillons on Cats' Wednesday., retrieved 17 Arril 2016

    Today the festival of kattenstoet has been revived, but with toy cats thrown from the Church. Cat burning was also practised:

    Although Ypres is not the only place where cats were used as victims in numerous folkloristic games, it is one of the few cities where the ritual still happens - albeit with stuffed toys instead of real cats. In medieval times cats were tortured and killed during the 'Cat fair' in many West European places. When the Prince of Orange and the Duke of Anjou visited Bruges in July 1582 they were 'very fittingly welcomed with a beautiful device' according to an old text.' This 'beautiful device' consisted of a ship with a high mast that was placed in the centre of the Market Square. Fireworks were placed on the ship at different places and when they were lit a mix of crackling powder and cats meowing resounded. When the ship finally was set alight, the animals perished in the flames. .... many people think that the cats' torture was a consequence of the association of cats with dark powers. The custom was rooted in superstition however. The exorcism of evil spirits would be the reason why the animals were used to force the devil to grant some favour. At the time people thought the devil could not see a cat suffer and would therefore show leniency..... The reason for this association with evil must be searched in the church. Cats were linked to witchcraft and paganism. This occurred because the Christian Church considered all those who thought differently as heathens and prosecuted them. Also because those people were often associated with cats by the church., retrieved 17 Arril 2016

    Cat burning was a widespread Christian entertainment elsewhere in France prior to the 1800s. People would gather dozens of cats in a bundle and hoist them high into the air onto a bonfire.

    In the midsummer fires formerly kindled on the Place de Grève at Paris it was the custom to burn a basket, barrel, or sack full of live cats, which was hung from a tall mast in the midst of the bonfire; sometimes a fox was burned. The people collected the embers and ashes of the fire and took them home, believing that they brought good luck. The French kings often witnessed these spectacles and even lit the bonfire with their own hands. In 1648 Louis the Fourteenth, crowned with a wreath of roses and carrying a bunch of roses in his hand, kindled the fire, danced at it and partook of the banquet afterwards in the town hall. But this was the last occasion when a monarch presided at the midsummer bonfire in Paris. At Metz midsummer fires were lighted with great pomp on the esplanade, and a dozen cats, enclosed in wicker cages, were burned alive in them, to the amusement of the people. Similarly at Gap, in the department of the High Alps, cats used to be roasted over the midsummer bonfire.... In the Vosges cats were burned on Shrove Tuesday; in Alsace they were thrown into the Easter bonfire. In the department of the Ardennes cats were flung into the bonfires kindled on the first Sunday in Lent; sometimes, by a refinement of cruelty, they were hung over the fire from the end of a pole and roasted alive. “The cat, which represented the devil, could never suffer enough.”
    Sir James Frazer,. The Golden Bough, (1922)

    Cat-burning was described in The Great Cat Massacre, a scholarly work by historian Robert Darnton:

    Cats also figured in the cycle of Saint John the Baptist, which took place on June 24, at the time of summer solstice. Crowds made bonfires, jumped over them, danced around them, and threw into them objects with magical power, hoping to avoid disaster and obtain good fortune during the rest of the year. A favorite object was cats — cats tied up in bags, cats suspended from ropes, or cats burned at stake. Parisians liked to incinerate cats by the sackful, while the Courimauds (or "cour à miaud" or cat chasers) of Saint Chamond preferred to chase a flaming cat through the streets. In parts of Burgundy and Lorraine they danced around a kind of burning May pole with a cat tied to it. In the Metz region they burned a dozen cats at a time in a basket on top of a bonfire. The ceremony took place with great pomp in Metz itself, until it was abolished in 1765. ... Although the practice varied from place to place, the ingredients were everywhere the same: a "feu de joie" (bonfire), cats, and an aura of hilarious witch-hunting. Wherever the scent of burning felines could be found, a smile was sure to follow.
    Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History, Basic Books, 2009. pp. 83–84

    Jean Meslier, the French Catholic priest who was also an atheist, expressed a characteristicly secular view of cat burning.

    Among other things, these mischievous, brutal madmen make [the cats] cruelly suffer harsh and violent tortures in their entertainments and even in public celebrations; they tie up nipping cats to the end of some pole they set up and at the bottom of which they light the fires of joy where they burn them alive to have the pleasure of seeing the violent movements and hearing the frightening cries that these poor unfortunate beasts are forced to make because of the harshness and violence of the tortures. (Jean Meslier, Testament: Memoir of the thoughts and sentiments of Jean Meslier (English translation), Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books (2009). pp. 562–563.

    Meslier noted explicitly the Cartesian Christian position that animals possessed no soul, and thus no sentience, nor capacity for suffering. He observed that this "tends to stifle in the heart of man all feelings of gentleness, kindness, and compassion that they may have for beasts ..."

    The justification for the persecution of black cats in particular was a papal bull called Vox in Rama.

    Vox in Rama

    Vox in Rama is a papal bull issued by Pope Gregory IX condemning a supposed heresy known as Luciferianism, a form of devil worship. The Bull was issued in response to allegations made by Konrad von Marburg, who had taken an active part in the Albigensian Crusade. The bull urged Siegfried III (Archbishop of Mainz) and King Henry VII (son of Emperor Frederick II), the heads of the local ecclesiastical and temporal authorities, to seek out and destroy the heretics in their lands. It was issued to King Henry, in June 1233 and subsequently to Siegfried, demanding that they use all efforts to stop the practice.

    The bull describes in detail the initiation rites of a supposed sect, claiming that the new initiate is first approached by a mysterious toad as large as a dog. Then an emaciated pale man would appear, whom the initiate would kiss and in consequence forget all memory of the Catholic faith. Members of the sect would then meet for a meal. When the meal had ended, a statue of a black cat would come to life, walking backwards with its tail erect. The cat was supposedly referred to as "Master". First the new initiate and then the leader of the sect would kiss the cat on its backside. After this ritual was completed, candles would be extinguished and the sect would engage in orgies, incest and homosexuality. When the candles were re-lit, a man from a dark corner "comes forth, from the loins upward shining like the sun. His lower part is shaggy like a cat." After a brief formulaic dialogue between the shining man-cat and the cult members, the meeting ends.

    In his bull, Gregory condemns the practice and calls upon the religious and secular authorities to take action against the cult's participants. Konrad was appointed Inquisitor in Mainz the same year the bull was issued, 1233. Konrad duly uncovered the sect and confirmed that they were visited by the Devil and by a diabolical black cat - confirming his own unlikely accusations. Confessions were obtained through the use of threats and torture, which would come to characterise Inquisition practice. A papal official wrote to Gregory confirming that Konrad had been forcing innocent people to confess by threatening them with burning at the stake.

    This identification of black cats with satanic rituals was reflected in accusations against the Cathars in the thirteenth century, the Knights Templars in the fourteenth, and supposed witches from the fifteenth - in each case providing reason the burn the accused as servants of the Devil. Black cats were also burned for their supposed role in satanic activities. These accusations certainly resulted in countless thousands of both people and cats being persecuted and killed, and it has even been suggested that the spread of the Black Death might have been facilitated by the shortage of cats. According to the theory the flea population exploded along with the rat population, as cats were exterminated en masse.

    Konrad was eventually assassinated, having overreached himself in his accusations. His name has become a byword for sadism and other excesses of Catholicism, especially in Maintz. The absurdities of Pope Gregory's bull has also become an embarrassment for the Catholic Church, and a few apologists have tried to claim that it is a fabrication, though it is universally accepted by historians (and entirely in line with other contemporary stories, such as Saint Dominic's heroic defeat of a demonic cat in the Church at Fanjeaux).

    The writer Donald W. Engles claims that Vox in Rama was "a death warrant for the [cat], which would be continued to be slaughtered without mercy until the early 19th century."c. The supposed association between black cats and demonic activities also provided for all of the medieval persecution of cats already reviewed above. It has also been claimed that relatively few all-black cats survive in western Europe as a result of the persecution. Angeles might have been understating his case, as the superstitious killing of black cats has continued in Catholic Italy into the twenty-first century.d.


    Church supported and Church sponsored Cruelty

    Dogs were bred not only for baiting and for fighting each other. They were also exploited as draught animals into the second half of the nineteenth century:

    Many forms of animal torture and cruelty were so much part of ordinary everyday life of the people that it was almost impossible to get anyone to admit that they were not justifiable. Thus the use of dogs as draught animals, which for generations was a scandal and a disgrace to Christian England. The animals were worked to death without the slightest compunction. They were compelled to pull full loads far beyond their strength; they were flogged till they dropped dead or dying by the roadside2.

    Conditions in Roman Catholic southern Europe were worse, and remained so for much longer. The enjoyment of blood, gore and suffering fitted with the sensual obsessions with broken flesh, blood and suffering that are such a prominent feature of Christianity in the Roman Church. The Puritans tried to stamp out such practices; but not for any genuinely moral reason. As Macaulay put it "The Puritan hated bear baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators".

    In the Middle Ages, when the Church was at its most powerful, more imaginative sports had been widespread. It was, for example, considered fun to tie a cat in a bag or leather bottle, hang it on a tree, and for archers to use it for target practice. Cats seem to have had a poor time of it, for when it became unfashionable to go around killing Jews at Shrovetide, European Christians took to killing cats instead. The Germans called it Judasstürtzen. In England it was customary to stone cockerels to death on Shrove Tuesday. Another seasonal favourite was for small boys to go out on St Stephen's Day and stone to death as many wrens as they could find. They did this to remember the stoning of St Stephen (and also to forget the wren's importance in pre-Christian Celtic religions). This practice continued in Roman Catholic Ireland until well within living memory.

    The Church deduced that because animals did not possess souls, they were akin to automatons. Like machines, they could feel neither emotion nor pain. They were disposable toys provided for mankind's amusement. Activities in which animals were tortured for sport were recorded without any hint that there might be anything wrong with them. Christopher Columbus and his crew, on their transatlantic mission from God, were typical. They delighted in wounding and partially dismembering a newly discovered animal, then seeing if it would still fight3. As animals were mere toys, one can imagine the glee of the Christian sailors who discovered that on Mauritius God had provided them with birds so trusting that they would walk up to their Christian visitors to be killed. Their meat was found to be unpalatable so the birds were clubbed to death by Christians just for fun. Within two hundred years dodos were extinct.

    Benjamin, the last known Tasmanian Tiger, at Beaumaris Zoo in 1933
    (renamed The Hobart Zoo, on the Queens Domain in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia)
    One of thousands of species hunted to extinction during the Christian hegemony

    No Christian saw anything wrong in exterminating hundreds of species around the world. Neither was there any objection to the brutality. In the middle of the nineteenth century Pope Pius IX forbade the opening of an animal protection office in Rome on the grounds that human beings had no duties to animals. This sort of attitude has persisted to the present day. Only a few years ago an Italian archbishop stated that it was not a sin to beat a dog or leave it to starve to death4. How could it be if dogs did not have souls?

    Hunting guns and other instruments of death are routinely blessed by clergymen, and not only Roman Catholic ones. In Norway Lutheran ministers continue to bless whaling ships. When secular thinkers had started to think seriously about the moral question of human rights over animals and human obligations to animals, Christians were still taking for granted that it was absurd to think of such things. When T. H. Huxley lectured in Edinburgh on the relationship between humankind and the lower animals, the Presbyterian Witness not only attacked it as a blasphemous contradiction to biblical narrative and doctrine but also added the suggestion that attendees should have formed a Gorilla Emancipation Society, clearly intending this as a insult.


    Animal Trials

    As animals did not possess souls, it was no crime to torture, mutilate or kill them. Sometime is it was not only acceptable, but admirable, even saintly, to do so. In the year 666 Saint. Agricola in supposedly cursed and burned storks en masse at Avignon. Although they did not possess souls, or feelings, animals were nonetheless responsible for their actions, and were subject to the will of the Church. The justification cited was Exodus 21:28: "If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death." The text was interpreted as referring to any animal, and the specific mode of execution generally ignored. In practice animals were executed in various ways: hanged, burned alive, strangled or buried alive. Additional biblical support for prosecuting animals was found in Genesis 9:5 where animals are accountable for the shedding of human blood, in the cursing of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and in David's cursing of rocks and mountains (2 Samuel 1:21 ).

    No moral intention was required on the part of the animal. Oxen which gored humans were not executed because they were morally culpable but because they were "lower" animals who had killed God's creatures higher up on the scale of creation. For Christians, they turned the natural order upside down.

    Images of animals inverting the natural orderfeature heavily in Medieval Church manuscripts, for example animals torturing and killing humans (the God-given natural order being for humans to torture and kill animals). Here rabbits are beating and flaying a man.

    In 1906, just as the practice of animal trials was dying out, knowledge of such trials was publicised by an American author, Edward Payson Evans (1831-1917), who wrote a book entitled The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, based largely on the work of Bartholome Chassende, a French jurist whose own accounts of animal trials had been published in 1531. Chassende had made his own legal reputation at the French bar by acting as counsel for a number of rats being prosecuted in the ecclesiastical court of Autun for having feloniously eaten and wantonly destroyed the local barley crop.

    On complaint formally presented by the magistracy, the official or bishop's vicar, who exercised jurisdiction in such cases, cited the culprits to appear on a certain day and appointed Chassende to defend them. In view of the bad repute and notorious guilt of his clients, Chassende was forced to employ all sorts of legal shifts and chicane, dilatory pleas and other technical objections, hoping thereby to find some loophole in the meshes of the law through which the accused might escape, or at least to defer and mitigate the sentence of the judge. He urged ... that inasmuch as the defendants were dispersed over a large tract of country and dwelt in numerous villages, a single summons was insufficient to notify them all; he succeeded, therefore, in obtaining a second citation, to be published from the pulpits of all the parishes inhabited by the said rats. (Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906, pp. 18-19)

    Chassenée then argued that an accused person may legally refuse to appear at a place where he cannot come in safety. Evans describes numerous cases under the law of lex talionis (the law of retaliation). Sentencing of guilty animals adhered to normal legal practice and established Church procedures, including the use of torture. Punishments included a knock on the head, the curse of an anathema, excommunication and in the case of quadrupeds, physical mutilation and capital punishment.

    'Trial of a Sow and Pigs at Lavegny'
    From The Book of Days (1863) edited by Robert Chambers


    A horse was hanged for killing a man at Dijon in the fourteenth century. In 1451 the Bishop of Lausanne excommunicated leeches for killing fish in Lake Geneva. Some of the leeches were arrested and taken to the local court. They were ordered to leave the district within three days, but they defied the order and had to be exorcised. In 1474 a hen mistaken for a cock was burned at Bâle in France for the crime of laying an egg. Cock eggs were imagined to be diabolic items favoured by witches, so the creature was burned at the stake for its supposed association with witchcraft. Sometimes animals were pursued for financial rather than juridical reasons. At Troyes a Church service for banishing caterpillars was not used unless the peasants had paid their tithes.

    n 1457, a family of French pigs killed and partially consumed a five-year-old boy in the village of Savigny-sur-Etang. The seven suspects, a sow and her six piglets, were held in the local jail until their trial. The sow was found guilty and sentenced to hang but the piglets were given a pardon on the basis they were too young to make their own choices and had been led astray by their rogue mother. In 1494, near Clermont in France another pig, a porker, was arrested for having “strangled and defaced a child in its cradle” and imprisoned in an abbey. Witnesses were examined. They testified that “on the morning of Easter Day, the infant being left alone in its cradle, the said pig entered during the said time the said house and disfigured and ate the face and neck of the said child .. which in consequence departed this life.” The judge passed sentence:

    We, in detestation and horror of the said crime, and to the end that an example may be made and justice maintained, have said, judged, sentenced, pronounced and appointed that the said porker, now detained as a prisoner and confined in the said abbey, shall be by the master of high works hanged and strangled on a gibbet of wood.

    In 1557 another French pig was found guilty of devouring a child and was sentenced to be buried alive. The porcine consumption of human flesh was particularly heinous during Lent as the offender had not only killed. It had also broken the strict rules of fasting before Easter.

    Detail from an Appendix
    to The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906) by E.P.Evans

    The practice of trying animals was commonplace and any animal might fall victim to it. Original Notices of Indictment refer to crimes such as homicide committed by bees, bulls, horses and snakes; fraud by field-mice (disguised as heretical clerics); and theft by foxes. Sparrows were prosecuted for chattering in Church. A pig was hanged at Mortaign in 1394 for the crime of eating a communion wafer. Evans shows that judicial proceedings were instituted against horseflies, Spanish flies, gadflies, beetles, grasshoppers, locusts, caterpillars, termites, weevils, bloodsuckers (leeches?), snails, worms, rats, mice, moles, cows, 'bitches and she-asses,' horses, mules, bulls, pigs, oxen, goats, cocks, cockchafers, dogs, wolves, snakes, eels, dolphins and turtledoves. These probably represent only a tiny fraction of the number of trial as record keeping for Church trials was so poor.

    "In 1386, the tribunal of Falaise sentenced a sow to be mangled and maimed in the head and forelegs, and then to be hanged, for having torn the face and arms of a child and thus caused its death. … As if to make the travesty of justice completed, the sow was dressed in man’s clothes and executed on the public square near the city-hall at an expense to the state of ten sous and ten deniers, besides a pair of gloves to the hangman." — E.P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906, p. 140

    Prosecutions were brought in both state and Church courts, but the Church was not convinced that that the state enjoyed the same divine authority as they did. Animal pests openly ignored the secular authorities, but even the smallest creature was subject to the authority of the Church. As the canon lawyer Chassenée explained noted, insects would only laugh if court cases were brought in secular courts5. The only penalty they recognised was a sentence of anathema, imposed by the Church.

    "A Cat hung up in Cheapside, habited like a Priest"
    Protestants hanging a cat, 1554. Courtesy Mary Evans Picture Library

    Another supposed crime reported by Evans was that of werwolfism (lycanthropy). In 1685 trial a "werewolf." (presumably just a wolf) was accused in Ansbach, Germany. The wolf, "supposed to be the incarnation of a deceased burgomaster of Ansbach, did much harm in the neighborhood of that city, preying upon the herds and even devouring women and children. With great difficulty the ravenous beast was finally killed; its carcass was then clad in a tight suit of flesh-coloured cere-cloth, resembling in tint the human skin, and adorned with a chestnut brown wig and a long whitish beard; the snout of the beast was cut off and a mask of the burgomaster's features substituted for it, and the counterfeit presentment thus produced was hanged by order of the court."

    Animal trials also occurred in the New World. In 1713 Franciscan brothers brought an action against the ants in the Brazilian province of Piedade no Maranhao, "because the said ants did feloniously burrow beneath the foundation of the monastery and undermine the cellars of the said Brethren, thereby weakening the walls of the said monastery and threatening its total ruin" (Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906, pp. 123-124).

    Animals were also held responsible for their complicity in the crime of bestiality. At Montpellier a mule found guilty of bestiality was sentenced to be burned alive in 1565, and because it was guilty of another offence its feet were mutilated before it was burned. In 1581, one George Schörpff was beheaded in Nuremberg and his body burned along with a cow, having been found guilty of unnatural acts. This practice was also exported to the New World. In 1642 Thomas Graunger (or Granger), a teenager, was caught in the act of sexual intercourse with a mare in Massachusetts. He confessed to the same crime with other farm animals including a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves, and a turkey. He was sentenced to death for his crime under biblical law and hanged (making him the first known juvenile to be executed in colonial America). The animals were convicted for their participation in the crime and were also executed. The bodies of Graunger and the animals were burnt on a pyre and the ashes buried together.

    At New Haven, Connecticut a cow, two heifers, two sows, three sheep and a man named Potter were all executed together in 1662 for committing bestial acts6. As in other cases, animals were tortured to elicit cries that could be interpreted as admissions of guilt. The idea of trying, torturing, mutilating and executing animals was not universally seen as acceptable outside religious circles. Racine's 1668 play Les Plaideurs, for example, satirizes animal trials in a legal process against a dog.

    Animal trials and excommunications spanned well over a millennium, during which the Church was at the panicle of its power, and the sole source of moral authority. The first incident listed by Evans took place in 824, when moles were excommunicated in the Valley of Aosta. The last recorded case of an animal trial was in the same year that Evans published his book, 1906, when (as reported in the New York Herald reported) a dog was tried in Delémont, a particularly religious (Catholic) town in Switzerland.

    Further reading:



    There has never been any Church prohibition against hunting for Christian laymen. There is some ambiguous history concerning clerical hunting. The Council of Trent made a distinction between clamorous (clamorosa) hunting and quiet (quieta) hunting (Session XXIV, 12). "Clamorous hunting" was forbidden to priests, but "quiet hunting" was allowed. "Clamorous hunting" presumably refers to large hunting parties associated with packs of hounds, drinking, and roistering. "Quiet hunting" presumably refers to laying traps in the woods or going out alone to hunt.

    The Corpus Juris Canonici (C. ii, X, De cleric. venat.) says: "We forbid to all servants of God hunting and expeditions through the woods with hounds; and we also forbid them to keep hawks or falcons." The ban on falconry occurs elsewhere. The Fourth Council of the Lateran (cannon. xv) decreed "We interdict hunting or hawking to all clerics." No reason is given for the prohibition and since there is obviously no moral difficulty with animal suffering, most commentators have assumed that the problem was with too many clerics spending inordinate amounts of time hunting and not therefore attending to their duties. In any case the prohibitions were widely (almost universally) ignored. Clergymen have always taken delight in killing animals. All of the higher ranks of European society had a specific type of hawk for falconry: that for a priest was a sparrow hawk7.

    In Britain the hunting clergyman has been a classic character in art and literature for centuries8. Chaucer's pilgrim monk was keen on hunting9.

    Sir Thomas Gascoigne and Sir Walter Vavasour with the Priest, the Vicar and Hunt Servants,
    English School, 1785 (detail showing the two knights and two priests)
    Clergymen were participants in most English fox hunts until recent times.

    The Reverend John (Jack) Russell, known as "The Sporting Parson", was an enthusiastic fox hunter who bred terriers in the early nineteenth century to help find and kill foxes run the earth. These terriers are still known as Jack Russells.

    "The Hunting Parson", the Rev John (Jack) Russell, who bred Jack Russell terriers to kill animals


    Animal Torture

    In Roman Catholic southern Europe many medieval forms of animal torture are still performed annually as part of annual Christian blood festivals, often using a local church. In one Spanish village, Villanueva de la Vera near Cáceres in Extremadura, a donkey is tortured each year on Shrove Tuesday. In Manganeses de la Polvorosa, it is customary to drag a live goat up the church tower and throw it down to its death in front of the assembled faithful10. This is not untypical. In Tordesillas in Castile blindfolded teenage girls use swords to hack at chickens trussed up and suspended for the occasion. This has been done at a number of blood fiestas in recent years to raise money for the local San Vincente chapel.

    At the festival of San Juan, in Coria, Extremadura a number of bulls are drugged, tortured and killed each year. Thousands of Christians assemble to watch meat hooks being plunged into the living animals. Men with blowpipes shoot metal darts in them, aiming for the vulnerable parts — the eyes, mouth, nose and testicles. The animals are clubbed, and a long pole with a metal spiked end is thrust at their anus and testicles. Each animal typically lasts for three or four hours. When dead (sometimes while still alive) the testicles are cut off and awarded to one of the brave Christians who have participated in its torment. Local priests are mystified that anyone should find this reprehensible.

    Other towns boast fire bull runs, which are similar, except that the bulls are terrified by having burning hemp tied to their horns. It is difficult to imagine entertainments such as these, or even conventional bull fighting, being tolerated in any modern society except a strongly Roman Catholic one. Catholic priests certainly see nothing wrong in bull fights and on occasion raise Church funds by organising and taking part in them11. Curiously the Church had once tried to ban bull fighting throughout the world except where it was most popular — in Spain and Portugal. In the 1560s Pope Pius V published a document that purported to abolish bull fighting throughout Christendom — but it was not published in the Iberian Peninsula on the grounds that it would bring the Holy Mother Church into disrepute.

    Public torture of a bull in Catholic Spain


    The traditional Christian approach to animal cruelty was formalised as a philosophy by René Descartes (1596–1650). His Discourse (1637) and Meditations (1641) informed Catholic attitudes about animals into the 21st century. Descartes proposed a mechanistic theory. For him, and for his Church, animals are nothing but complex automata, with no souls, minds, or reason. They can see, hear, and touch, but they are not, in any sense, conscious, and are unable to suffer or to feel pain. In lectures he would torture and dissect animals, asserting over their cries of pain, that these cries were merely automatic reactions. Voltaire, whom the Church regarded as its greatest enemy, was horrified by such displays:

    Hold then the same view of the dog which has lost his master, which has sought him in all the thoroughfares with cries of sorrow, which comes into the house troubled and restless, goes downstairs, goes upstairs; goes from room to room, finds at last in his study the master he loves, and betokens his gladness by soft whimpers, frisks, and caresses.

    There are barbarians who seize this dog, who so greatly surpasses man in fidelity and friendship, and nail him down to a table and dissect him alive, to show you the mesaraic veins! You discover in him all the same organs of feeling as in yourself. Answer me, mechanist, has Nature arranged all the springs of feeling in this animal to the end that he might not feel?
    Voltaire (1694–1778), Bêtes, Dictionnaire Philosophique.


    The Kattenstoet, literally the "Festival of the Cats", is an annual event in Ypres, Belgium. It is held regularly on the second Sunday of May and commemorates an Ypres tradition from the Middle Ages in which cats were thrown from the belfry tower of the Cloth Hall to the town square below.



    Only with the coming of secular ideas did anyone think to criticise the abuse of animals. Following Voltaire were philosophers like Locke, Butler and Bentham, all of whom were criticised by the Churches, and all of whom were regarded as atheists. Here is Bentham, foreseeing a time when humankind might take a more enlightened view of animal rights as it might take a more enlightened view of the practice of slavery:

    The day has been, I grieve to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?12

    A painting of the trial of Bill Burns, found guilty of beating his donkey, in the world's first known conviction for animal cruelty, in 1822 under Martin's Act passed in the same year.
    The concept of animal cruelty, however extreme, being considered a crime had been unknown to Church law for some 1,500 years.

    HogarthOther sympathetic voices included writers like Sheridan, while Hogarth helped with engravings such as his Four Stages of Cruelty. Christian voices opposing cruelty were few and late, though there were exceptions, including Wesley and Wilberforce. As in so many areas of reform, it was Quakers who were quickest to join the secularists and Utilitarians, and most effective in affecting public opinion. One of the most effective contributions in the nineteenth century was the book Black Beauty (1877) written by the Quaker, Anna Sewell.

    Objections to vivisection were first raised by atheists such as Charles Bradlaugh in Britain, and Robert Ingersoll and Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) in the USA. Again opposition to cruel sports was initiated by freethinkers, not Christians, and the concept of animal rights was developed not by theologians, but by secular philosophers.

    Now that animal rights have become a popular issue, the mainstream churches are shifting their ground. Churchmen have even suggested recently that animals may have some sort of embryonic soul after all. St Francis is presented as evidence that the Church has been kind to animals all along. It is true that some followers of St Francis did adopt a sympathetic attitude to animals, notably the fourteenth century Fraticelli, or Spiritual Franciscans; but they were executed by the Church authorities as heretics, so it might look a little hypocritical now for the Roman Church to claim the Fratricelli's record as its own.

    Animal welfare has not been a concern of the Church, at least until the late twentieth century. Vegetarianism was a heresy, and people were burned alive for it in the Middle Ages. In the nineteenth century vegetarianism became associated with atheism, largely because God had made animals for us to eat. In the 1990s a British cabinet minister and committed Christian (John Selwyn Gummer) reaffirmed publicly that it was a God-given duty to eat meat. Vegetarianism is still considered by many Christians to be ungodly.

    Clergymen still feature as supporters, participants and patrons of blood sports - fox hunting, hare coursing, cock fighting, bull fighting, wherever the law still allows them.

    This sort of animal cruelty is still common in most Christian countries
    outside western Europe and North America - this photograph comes from Ghana

    As usual the Protestant countries have responded to secular opinion faster than Roman Catholic ones. For a modern Anglican priest sympathetic to animal rights discussing traditional Christian attitudes, click on the following link.

    "Site of City Drowning Pool Dogs Only 1891"
    Memorial stone, Fairhaven, part of the City of Bellingham, Washington, USA

    Catholics too have already seen the benefits of associating themselves with the Green movement. In 1990 the Pope proclaimed St Francis of Assisi the patron saint of ecology. Astute though this may have been, the traditional position of all mainstream Churches is much better represented by the Franciscan nuns who live near to Manganeses de la Polvorosa, the site of the bull torturing festival mentioned above. It is they who make the decorations and streamers for the instruments of torture13. Other Catholics also still uphold the traditional line on animals and their rights. Here for example is a traditionalist Catholic blogger:

    There is simply no teaching of the Church that confers rights upon animals and plenty that say the opposite. Animal rights is an entirely invented and modern concept that has no basis in Christian doctrine - or truth - whatsoever. Thus, to pretend that animals have rights is to be in disagreement with God, the Creator of all creation, including animals. If an animal had a "right" then it would have to have at least the potential ability to enforce that right - but it can never do so because animals are not rational creatures. [Link to]



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    More Images


    A church misericord showing the clubbing of a pig. Such images occur in numerous churches because they were fully compatible with Christian teaching.


    Giotto di Bondone, St. Francis Preaching to the Birds (detail), c.1295-1300
    Saint Francis, previously regarded as an eccentric and an embarrassment, has recently been presented as representing ecological ideas similar to those of the secular mainstream.


    One of 22 baby dwarf sperm whales killed in the Philippines in 2014. Fishermen use explosives, bolos and knives to kill these endangered animals, and are almost never prosecuted in this traditionalist overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.


    Grizzly bear chair presented by Seth Kinman to President Andrew Johnson on Sept. 8th, 1865.
    Something considered acceptable in Christian societies into the twentieth century.


    Schelte à Bolswert, St. Augustine’s apparition in Toledo to drive locusts into the Tagus, 1624


    A cat being sacrificed - taking a bomb into enemy territory during a siege.
    Treatise by artillery master Franz Helm of Cologne, Manuscript image from the 1500’s.
    "Create a small sack like a fire-arrow. If you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited."


    Real or photoshopped? There is no way of knowing from the photograph alone.


    Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 174, detail of f. 83r (the Flood).
    Augustine, De civitate dei. Paris, beginning of the 15th century.


    A widow, her cat and her demon. From a 1621 witch case in England. The British Library Board).
    Women and their cats were killed by Christians on the grounds that they were witches and their demonic familliars.


    Bear Baiting Misericord


    Bear Baiting Misericord, St Botolph’s Church, Boston, Lincolnshire, England.


    Misericord of boar hunting, St Mary's Church, Beverley, Yorkshire, England.


    Misericord of bear baiting, St Mary's Church, Beverley, Yorkshire, England.


    Bear Baiting misericord, Manchester Cathedral






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    a. D.A Gallagher & D.A.Gallagher, (trans.), Saint Augustine. The Catholic and Manichaean Ways of Life, Boston University Press, 1966, p. 120, cited in Peter Singer, Animal Liberation. Random House, 1990, p. 192.

    b. Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, iii. 112

    Per haec autem excluditur error ponentium homini esse peccatum si animalia bruta occidat. Ex divina enim providentia naturali ordine in usum hominis ordinantur. Unde absque iniuria eis utitur homo, vel occidendo, vel quolibet alio modo. Propter quod et dominus dixit ad Noe, Gen. 9-3: sicut olera virentia dedi vobis omnem carnem.


    Through these considerations we refute the error of those who claim that it is a sin for man to kill brute animals. For animals are ordered to man’s use in the natural course of things, according to divine providence. Consequently, man uses them without any injustice, either by killing them or by employing them in any other way. For this reason, God said to Noah: “As the green herbs, I have delivered all flesh to you” [Gen. 9:3].


    Si qua vero in sacra Scriptura inveniantur prohibentia aliquid crudelitatis in animalia bruta committi, sicut de ave cum pullis non occidenda: hoc fit vel ad removendum hominis animum a crudelitate in homines exercenda, ne aliquis, exercendo crudelia circa bruta, ex hoc procedat ad homines; vel quia in temporale damnum hominis provenit animalibus illata laesio, sive inferentis sive alterius; vel propter aliquam significationem, sicut apostolus exponit illud de non alligando ore bovis triturantis.


    Indeed, if any statements are found in Sacred Scripture prohibiting the commission of an act of cruelty against brute animals, for instance, that one should not kill a bird accompanied by her young [Deut. 22:6], this is said either to turn the mind of man away from cruelty which might be used on other men, lest a person through practicing cruelty on brutes might go on to do the same to men; or because an injurious act committed on animals may lead to a temporal loss for some man, either for the agent or for another man; or there may be another interpretation of the text, as the Apostle [1 Cor. 9:9] explains it, in terms of “not muzzling the ox that treads the corn” [Deut. 25:4].


    1. St. Agnese Sarcophagus fragment illustration as well as cup illustration from volume I of A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, A Continuation of the Dictionary of the Bible - Comprising the History, Institutions and Antiquities of the Christian Church, From the Time of the Apostles to the Age of Charlemagne edited by Sir William Smith D.C.L., L.L.D. and Samuel Cheetham, M.A. Professor of Pastoral Theology, as well as Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature - Rev. John M'Clintock D.D. & James Strong S.T.D., and also from The Calendar of the Anglican Church Illustrated - James Parker - Part III. Early Christian Symbols designated as "Two cocks fighting: striving for Christ and the palm of glory."

    c. Donald W. Engles (2001). Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat. "Appendix III: Pope Gregory and the Vox in Rama".Routledge. p. 183. ISBN 0415261627.

    d. Daily Telegraph, 26 August 2007, Bad luck for black cats in Italy, by Carmiola Ionescu

    'Superstition blamed for killing thousands of black cats in Italy. A leading animal rights group has estimated that 60,000 black cats are killed every year by Italians who believe that they bring bad luck. The Italian Association for the Protection of Animals and the Environment claims that some are also killed as part of black magic rituals. While black cats are seen as being lucky in the UK, many people in Italy believe that if a black cat crosses their path it indicates the devil is present. The association calculated its figure from observations of the stray cat population and from monitoring of animal ownership registers. The group said it had evidence that thousands of black cats vanished or were found dead each year. Across large parts of Europe, black cats have been associated with witchcraft since the Middle Ages and were said to be the favourite companions for witches. Lorenzo Croce, the association's president, blamed the Church for spreading myths about the animals. "The Catholic Church has perpetuated this idea for centuries and it is now deeply implanted in people's minds," he said. "For centuries black cats were massacred at the order of priests..."

    2. Scott, A History of Torture, p 139.

    3. For the casual cruelty of Columbus and his crew see Sale, The Conquest of Paradise, especially the account of the peccari and the spider monkey on p 195.

    4. In a Christmas sermon of 1988 Alfredo Battisi, Archbishop of Udine, repeated the traditional Roman Catholic line that "it is not a sin to beat a dog or leave it to starve to death". "Italian Archbishop ends up in doghouse", The Irish Times, 2 January 1989), page 8. Discussed by by Andrew Linzey:

    'The modern doctrine of animal rights poses almost insuperable contradictions and problems,' argued the Daily Telegraph leader of 10 January 1995. 'For centuries, it has been an inherent part of the Christian ethic that man is entitled to exploit lesser species for his own advantage, as do many fervently Catholic societies to this day.'

    The Telegraph may understate the case. Historically Christian theology has been the intellectual bulwark against the rights of animals. 'It is not wrong for man to make use of them either by killing or by any other way whatever,' wrote St Thomas Aquinas, setting the seal on the Aristotelian view that animals are here for our use. Indeed, Pope Pius IX, in the middle of the 19th century, forbade the opening of an animal protection office in Rome on the grounds that humans had no duties to animals. The archbishop of Udine in eastern Italy offered some supporting thoughts in his 1990 [sic] Christmas sermon. 'It is not a sin to beat a dog or leave it to starve to death,' he maintained.

    Major elements within the Christian tradition have regarded animals as beings with no intrinsic value, even as things here for our use. The result is unsurprising, as the Telegraph accepts: in Spain, not one Catholic authority opposes bull-fighting, even fiestas in which animals are gratuitously mutilated; in Canada, Anglican and Catholic bishops support seal-hunting and fur-trapping; in Norway, clergy bless the whaling ships; in Ireland, Catholic clergy go hare-coursing, and, in England, the General Synod of the Church of England won't oppose fox-hunting on Church-owned land. Those who believe animals are things, treat them as things. The Telegraph concluded: 'It seems increasingly part of a post-Christian ethic, however, to nourish the belief that animals possess dignity, personality and spirit that entitle their interests to be considered in the same fashion as the rest of us' .

    Andrew Linzey. "A Christian shield for Animals", The Spectator, 5 April 1996, p 18

    The Rev Professor Andrew Linzey was a senior research fellow at Mansfield College, Oxford, an Anglican priest and member of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oxford. Here he dates the archbishop's assertion to 1990, but in another article he dates it to 1998, which is correct ("Christian Theology and Animal Rights", Shap Journal, XII - 1988, p14. See copy here.

    5. Chassenée, De Excommunicatione Animalium Insectorum (1531).

    6. For accounts of such trials see E. P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, Heinemann (1906). For the New Haven case see Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), Bk. VI, Ch 3, p 38, cited by Scott, A History of Torture, p 278.

    7. Dame Juliana Berners, Boke of St Albans (1486).

    8. Attempts were made from time to time to stop churchmen hunting, but these were made mainly for reasons of cost, and were never successfully enforced.

    9. Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Prologue.

    10. The Ark (Bulletin of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare), number 160, August 1990, p 25.

    11. The Ark (Bulletin of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare), number 160, August 1990, p 16.

    12. Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, first published 1789, chapter 17; This citation from Burns, J.H. And Hart, H.L.A. (eds.) The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham. Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 283.

    13. The Ark (Bulletin of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare), number 160, August 1990, pp 15-16.
























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