87 (6) pp 359

Saint-Anthony’s fire in humans and pigs: how eating pork was Christianized in Western Europe

In the monotheistic religions emerging in the Middle-East, the cradle of our civilization, pigs wereof low esteem. Eating their meat was even forbidden in the Mosaic laws, most probably because in aridor semi-arid regions these animals were in competition with humans for food. The taboo on pork couldnot be maintained within Christian practice once the church established its dominant position in WesternEurope. Products of the large woods made the fattening of domestic pigs easy in that continent,thus providing food necessary for humans to survive hard winters. In this context the early Christian,Saint Anthony of Egypt, became associated with pigs, because he was invoked to protect against epidemicsof ergotism in humans and severe inflammations of widely diverse etiology in animals as wellas in humans. The most typical of these, which occurred in pigs, was termed Saint Anthony’s fire, aswas ergotism in humans. It was mainly the religious order of the Antonites that propagated the pigletas the attribute of this saint. This unusual religious association symbolizes the acceptance in mediaevalWestern Europe of pork as high-quality food.

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Veterinary past