Feast of Fools or Feast of Asses

Definition

Theater

  • Festivities performed on the feasts of St Stephen (26 December),St John (27 December), and Holy Innocents (28 December) by the lowerclergy in many European cathedrals and collegiate churches in medievaltimes. Apparently related to ancient Roman revels, it began in Francein the 12th century and soon spread throughout Catholic Europe. InEngland it became a tradition at the cathedrals of Lincoln, Salisbury,and St Paul's, among others.

    During the festivities, the minor clergy assumed the rolesof their superiors and elected their own dominus festi, a Kingof Fools or Boy Bishop, who later evolved into an Abbot of Unreasonor Lord of Misrule. The crude drama included a procession inwhich the King rode on an ass while wearing donkey's ears. An extant13th-century manuscript of the Festa Asinaria at Beauvais Cathedralrecords the welcoming of the ass through its doors. The clergymenwould feast and drink, sing ribald songs to the tunes of hymns, playdice at the altar, perform burlesques of sacred services in whichbraying often took the place of the customary responses, and act outlicentious caricatures of bishops.

    In 1207 Pope Innocent III banned these revels and later inthe 13th century the Bishop of Lincoln called them "a vain andfilthy recreation hateful to God and dear to devils." The EnglishChurch finally suppressed the Feast of Fools in 1500, but it lingeredon for two more centuries in France. see also fool.

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