Animal Trials

Michael Grayshott writes:

Crucifixions, burnings, boilings: the walls, windows and alcoves of churches and cathedrals are adorned with all manner of sticky ends. The Church of the Holy Trinity in Falaise, Normandy once contained a unique example: a fresco on its western wall, dating from the late 14th century, depicted the death by hanging of a pig. The swine was no martyr, but a murderer. According to a contemporary account, the sow had torn at the face and arms of a local child, who died from the injuries. The pig was apprehended and brought before the local tribunal. Having listened carefully to the facts of the case, the court passed sentence: the beast was to be ‘mangled and maimed in the head and forelegs’ before being sent to the gallows. By all accounts, the execution was a crowd-puller. More than five hundred people pitched up to watch the pig trot onto the scaffold that had been erected in the local square (the story that a herd of her peers was forced to attend, by way of warning, is now thought to be apocryphal). The spectacle even attracted the attention of the vicomte de Falaise, who was sufficiently moved to commission the fresco in commemoration. Perhaps in deference to this illustrious guest, the pig was trussed up in breeches, a waistcoat and ‘white gloves’, before being garrotted by the ‘master of high works’.

(LRB 5 December 2013)