Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Papism


Holy Inquisition for... animals!

SOURCE: Greek “Focus” magazine, vol. 60,  pages 82-84 (adaptation)


They were accused of theft, looting, vandalisms, even infanticides.

For the Medieval courts, they were not mere criminals; they were faithful servants of the Devil.

Is it possible, that the perverted beliefs and the folly of the Franks/Papists had reached this point?  Unfortunately, yes!

The Inquisition had not confined itself to people only.  There was an entire judicial system in place, which put... animals on the stand!

On the 5th of May 1986, scores of enraged inhabitants of the Malaysian village of Malatcha attacked a stray dog and beat it to death.  The villagers insisted that the unfortunate quadruped was a member of a ruthless mob of thieves who could transform themselves into animals, to avoid being arrested.  This story may have traveled all over the world; however, this kind of occurrence is not something unprecedented.  Throughout the Middle Ages and up to the beginning of the 19th century, animals were actually accused, trialed and condemned, like common criminals…


Servants of evil

In Medieval Europe, the power of the (Papist) “Church” was infinite; it influenced every function of the State, and most of all the system of Justice.  It was the Holy Inquisition which had tortured all those who had dared to claim that Earth was not the centre of the universe; it had even burnt women at the stake, after accusing them of sorcery. Not even the animal kingdom could escape from the arm of the law! The legal framework for the judicial prosecution of animals was formulated in the 13th century, by the Italian theologian and scholar, Thomas Aquinatus. He maintained that even though animals were creations of God, their criminal actions were attributed to an unholy alliance, since those four-legged criminals were acting on the instructions of the Devil. They were his instruments on Earth - his faithful servants – therefore through their punishment, the faithful were actually punishing the Devil himself.


 Formal procedures

Edward Evans was the first to study and to analytically record the judicatory adventures of animals.  In his book, “The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals” which circulated in 1906, the American author described 191 court cases where animals were the accused.  According to the information presented by him, 36 cases were tried in the 15th century, 57 cases in the 16th century, and 56 cases in the 17th century.  Pigs, cows, wolves, rats, dolphins, and even insects found themselves confronting justice, and were actually subpoenaed to answer to their illegal actions.  The procedure was formal in every way.  The animals were placed in custody; the State would appoint their defence lawyer, the court would listen to the arguments of both parties, and would finally return a verdict. In the event that the capture of the accused animals was not feasible (rats, insects, fish), the court would issue a decision ‘in absentia’ of the accused.  The 1993 movie «The Hour of the Pig», was based on Evans’ research. The theme of the movie was the task of a young lawyer who undertook the defence of a…..killer pig…. 


Rodent Advocates

Quite a few successful lawyers had “built” their careers by defending “accused” animals exclusively. The most renowned was Barthélemy de Chassannée (1480-1541)[i], a most capable defense lawyer who specialized in defending….rats.  In 1531, when the citizens of the French town of Autun saw their wheat stores dangerously depleting on account of the scourge of rats that had besieged them in thousands, the local court immediately pronounced its decision of unprovoked and malicious destruction of foreign property, and the rats were forthwith summoned to present themselves within six days.  Naturally, the rats did not appear.   This behavior greatly infuriated the judge, making him want to impose the death penalty on the unsuspecting animals.  At that point, Chassannée intervened, by stressing that the rats had not shown any disrespect towards the court; they were simply not aware of their summons because they had moved on, underground, to the neighbouring village.  As incredible as it may sound, Chassannée’s arguments convinced the judge, who allocated another date for the rats’ trial, in order for them to be notified properly.  Unfortunately for the people, the rat trials continued, even during the plague that swept through 14th century Europe. No-one had suspected that the rodents were the carriers of that epidemic; while the “guilty” rats were being hanged in public squares in punishment for their crimes, half of Europe’s population was being annihilated by the Black Death….

 [1]  www.er.uqam.ca/nobel/m335520/page%202.htm  (French)


 Swine, à la Hannibal Lecter!

Apart from stealing, animals were also accused of homicides. In December of 1457, a little sow was arrested in Chavigny in France, accused of strangling and disfiguring an infant while it was asleep in its crib.  Eyewitnesses claimed that the sow had entered the house while the baby’s mother was out, and that it went directly to the child’s room.  Before they could intervene, the sow had trampled and squashed the baby under its weight.  The sow was accompanied by its six piglets, which were found drenched in the child’s blood.  The court expressed its disgust for the heinous crime (as they called it), and ordered the sow to be put to death by the executioner.  The piglets were relieved of the charges, because they were deemed underage.

A similar incident occurred in 1494 A.D. in Clermont, France, when a hungry hog devoured an infant, on Easter day.  The pig was found guilty of infanticide and was led to the gallows in the city square where it was hung, in the presence of a cheering crowd.

Right up to the end of the 16th century, domestic animals – especially pigs – were the guilty parties that were more commonly accused, out of the entire animal kingdom.


No wiggle in her walk…

In no way were the judges verdicts pre-decided.  Proof of this, is that many animals had been acquitted, and even compensated for the suffering they had undergone.  The most characteristic incident was recorded in 1750 A.D., and it concerned a ewe.  The unfortunate animal was caught in the act of…..lovemaking, with its owner.  Besides being a criminal act, bestiality was also a mortal sin, punishable by death.

Finally, after the summation by both lawyers, the court ruled that the ewe had been raped, and consequently was not to be held responsible for the perverted appetites of its owner.  The chief defense witness was the local (Papist) priest, who swore that he knew the “accused” from when it was a young lamb, and that she had never… provoked the men in the village with her behaviour; in other words, she had never… wiggled her tail at anyone!   The shepherd was found guilty of rape and bestiality and was sentenced to death by hanging.


Excerpts from the article «Animals on the stand» by John Paliouris

Transcript/supervision: Thomas F. Dritsas

Translation by A.N.

Greek Text

Article published in English on: 3-12-2005.

Last update: 3-12-2005.