Year 2019, Volume 18 , Issue 36, Pages 557 - 582 2019-12-30

Sacred Folly and Feast of Fools - Descriptive Analysis of a Religious Festival in the Middle Ages -
Kutsal Aptallık ve Aptallar Festivali - Orta Çağ’da Bir Dini Festivalin Betimsel Analizi -

Süleyman TURAN [1]

This article is about a religious festival entitled “The Feast of Fools”. The Feast of Fools was a festival celebrated annually on 1 January for the day of the Circumcision in many parts of Europe, and especially in France. It approximately continued from the end of the eleventh to the end of the sixteenth century. Roots of this festival can be traced to ancient Roman festival, Saturnalia. It is claimed that during this festival priests and clerks wore animal and wild beast masks and women’s clothings, ate black puddings while the celebrant was saying mass, thrown dice at the altar, drank excessively, run and jump through the church, sang obscene and bawdy hymnal songs, and they defaced the words and songs of the liturgy. The feast is shortly characterized by its reversals. As far as we can see, in its excessive form it was never affirmed by Church authorities; on the contrary, it was restricted and regularly forbidden. Eventually it was abrogated in the 16th century. But its traces have been continuing until now and some festivals such Mardi Gras carries and reflects the traces of this festival.


 “The Feast of Fools”, which was a religious festival, was celebrated annually on 1st January for the day of the Circumcision in many parts of Europe, especially in France. It took place approximately between the end of the eleventh century and the end of the sixteenth century. It is said that the origin of the Feast of Fools dates back to pre-Christian Rome and the festival named Saturnalia. As it is known, the Roman calendar included a great number of festivals celebrated throughout the year. The Saturnalia, one of the popular Roman festivals or holidays, was originally an agricultural festival held during the winter solstice and was intended especially to honor the god Saturn. During the festival, moral restrictions became less strict and people were free to engage in all forms of celebration and fun.

The first surviving notices of the Feast of Fools belong to Paris, Beauvais, and Châlons. Joannes Belethus, the rector of theology in Paris, has the oldest mention dating back to the 11th century. He briefly says that “These are four tripudia, religious dance feasts after Christmas. The feasts belong respectively to the deacons, the priests, the choir-children and the subdeacons, called the Feast of Fools. The common dates for its performance in the different churches in France are the Circumcision, Epiphany or the octave of the Epiphany.”

Low-ranking subdeacons were allowed to adopt leadership roles in worship by the Feast of Fools. The choirboys and their “boy bishop” were given similar privileges on the day of the Innocents (28 December). St Paul’s statement to the Corinthians was the basic reference of this thought. Paul, toward the end of a long passage favorably comparing “the foolishness of God” (stultum Dei ) to “the wisdom of the world,” declared, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27).

It was the tradition that a young boy was selected as the mock “pope” or “bishop” while the status of servants was given to the highest local church officials. This young boy was called “the King of Misrule” or “the King of Fools”. The Feast of Fools was consisted of four different courses: i) Procession to the church, ii) the Mass, iii) carnivalesques in the church and iv) carnivalesques and theatrical performances outside the church. Its content was not rigid, so it showed difference according to different churches through the centuries. It is stated that “Priests and clerks may be seen wearing masks at the hours of office. They dance in the choir dressed as women or minstrels. They sing wanton songs. They play at dice there. They run and jump through the church, without a blush at their own shame. Finally, they drive about the town and its theatres in shabby traps and carts; and rouse the laughter of their fellows and the bystanders in infamous performances, with indecent gestures and verses scurrilous and unchaste” during this festival.

The feast in which the regular movements of the ordinary service were disregarded was concisely portrayed by its reversals. It was asserted that it was a precious day as it was the one day when people left Christian morals and adopted ridiculous rites instead. The status and meaning of this festival is arguable. For instance, some researchers including Alain de Botton asserted that this festival was regarded as a “sacred parody” to assure that things would be in the right way for the rest of the year.

The Feast of Fools where the opposite course was taken was regarded as an opening up to the sensory world. The participants’ own apology for feasting mentioned in the letter from the Theological Faculty of Paris in 1445 clearly reflected this: Feasting is obligatory since "foolishness, which is our second nature and seems to be inherent in man, might freely spend itself at least once a year. Wine barrels burst if from not open them and let in some air".

As we understood from the sources, the festival that church authorities never approved was restricted and regularly forbidden. Finally, it was terminated in the 16th century. However, today there are some festivals such as Mardi Gras which reflects the traces of The Feast of Fools.

Bu makale “Aptallar Festivali” olarak isimlendirilen dinsel bir kutlamayı konu edinmektedir. İsa’nın sünnet oluşunun hatırlandığı 1 Ocak tarihinde Avrupa’nın birçok bölgesinde ve özellikle de Fransa’da her yıl gerçekleştirilen bu festival, yaklaşık olarak XI. yüzyılın sonundan XVI. yüzyılın sonuna kadar devam etmiştir. Festivalin kökleri Antik Roma’daki Saturnalia kutlamasına kadar geri götürülebilir. Festivalde rahipler ve kilise görevlilerinin hayvan ve canavar maskeleri taktıkları, kadın kıyafetleri giydikleri, evharistiya esnasında pıhtılaşmış domuz kanından yapılmış sosis yedikleri, altarda zar yuvarladıkları, aşırı içki içtikleri, kilise içerisinde koşup zıpladıkları, müstehcen ilahiler söyledikleri ve liturjinin sözleri ve şarkılarını tahrif ettikleri ifade edilmektedir. Kısaca ifade etmek gerekirse, festival her şeyi alt üst etmesiyle karakterize olmuştur. Kaynaklardan anlaşıldığı kadarıyla bu aşırı kutlama biçimiyle festival Kilise yetkilileri tarafından asla tasvip edilmemiş, aksine sınırlandırılmış, yasaklama yoluna gidilmiş ve nihayet XVI. yüzyılda da ilga edilmiştir. Ancak festivalin izlerinin günümüze kadar devam ettiği ve günümüzde kutlanan Mardi Gras gibi çeşitli festivallerin söz konusu izleri taşıdığı ve yansıttığı anlaşılmaktadır.

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Primary Language tr
Subjects Social
Journal Section Articles

Orcid: 0000-0002-3731-2986
Author: Süleyman TURAN (Primary Author)
Country: Turkey


Publication Date : December 30, 2019

ISNAD Turan, Süleyman . "Kutsal Aptallık ve Aptallar Festivali - Orta Çağ’da Bir Dini Festivalin Betimsel Analizi -". Hitit Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi 18 / 36 (December 2019): 557-582 .