search burger
search ×

Like a chicken in church

Discovering animals in the Churches of Europe


“Like a dog in church, Bart Simpson often sighs when he feels afflicted by a misfortune as biting as it is unfair. An expression that derives from the ancient ban on quadrupeds entering places of worship, from which they were (and often still are) kicked out in a bad way.

An unjust and iniquitous treatment that, on the other hand, is not reserved for other animals, as we are shown by some churches that have an ancient and entirely original relationship with animals, so much so as to house some of them, alive and well, inside.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da 🅒🅐🅡🅣🅞🅞🅝🅖🅐🅢🅜 (@cartoongasm)

In Santo Domingo de la Calzada (not far from Burgos, Spain) there is perhaps one of the few poultry houses set up in a sacred building. Yes, there are indeed chickens, alive, in a wooden cage built into one of the wings of the building. The chickens have earned this unusual location by virtue of a legend: the hen house in fact recalls a miraculous event that supposedly took place in these lands. A miracle that saw a rooster and a hen, already cooked, come back to life as proof of the innocence of a young man unjustly hanged and who survived his execution. Hence the saying “Santo Domingo de la Calzada, sang the hen after being cooked”.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da Snailvan (@snail_van)

In Ravenna, however, in the Basilica of San Francesco, there is a very special 'holy aquarium'. The ancient crypt, lower than the floor of the church, houses the marble sarcophagus in which Bishop Neon rests. But it also houses an unusual colony of goldfish, wallowing in the clear groundwater that has flooded those spaces, located below sea level. The millennia-old columns supporting the vaults of the crypt are therefore submerged in water and the lucky goldfish swim above 10th-century mosaics.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da 🇮🇹🇮🇹 Italia 🇮🇹🇮🇹 (@italian_bestplaces)

In Curtatone (Mantua), inside the Sanctuary of the Beata Vergine delle Grazie, there is instead a crocodile. In this case, the animal is less fortunate than the Spanish chickens, being dead and stuffed. The reptile that hangs from the ceiling of a chapel has uncertain and incomplete origins, with many legends over the centuries, including heroic boatmen and divine intercessions to rid the area of the ferocious predator nesting in the local marshes. A similar, cumbersome presence is also boasted by the Sanctuary of S. Maria delle vergini in Macerata: in this case, the crocodile is said to have been brought as a gift, in 1590, by a farmer who managed to kill it by devoutly invoking the help of the Madonna.

On the other hand, the bats that dwell in the cave-church of San Giovanni d'Antro (Friuli), a site where history, art, faith and mythology coexist, are alive and well. And bats too, which have lived in the cavern that opens in the limestone part since time immemorial. The mysterious presences of Celts and Templars are therefore not the only ones hovering between the Lombard loggia and the late Gothic rock church.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da Letizia Nordi (@letizianordi)

Staying in the sphere of not-so-pet animals, we land in Greece, on the island of Kefalonia. Where the Madonna of the Snakes is venerated: in the church of the monastery of St Gerasimos, in the village of Markopoulo, from 6 to 15 August every year, dozens of snakes gather around the effigy of the Virgin Mary, for scientifically unknown reasons. In this case, legend traces the strange migration back to pirate raids in the 18th century, which caused the old sanctuary to burn down, from which, however, the silver icon of the Virgin Mary, which now attracts the reptiles, remained inexplicably unscathed.

Image Adrian Negura on Unsplash