Episode 4


By Béatrice Caseau Chevallier

Sound clip


On normal days, altar boys were not allowed to sit in the canons’ stalls and their behavior was very much controlled. But for a few days after Christmas, there was a Charivari, also called the Feast of Fools. Victor Hugo was fascinated by the Feast of Fools. His novel takes place in 1482 and imagines a Feast of Fools at the feast of Epiphany. The Feast of Fools took place from 26 December to 1 January. It was denounced by an ordinance of Eudes de Sully in 1198, yet there are still records of discussions about the excesses of these festivities in 1445, this time it is the faculty of theology of Paris which in a letter to all prelates and chapters condemns and describes the excesses:

  • Masked and costumed priests and clerics who dance in the choir during the office,
  • Who eat fat dumplings on the altar,
  • Who play dice in the church, and
  • Who incense with the leather of old slippers.
  • These festivals are also condemned by Gerson, and by the Council of Basel. The excesses described are meant to scandalize and push to put an end to what was a common practice in the cathedrals at the end of the Middle Ages. We imagine the festive atmosphere during the three days following Christmas, during which different groups of the clergy, including choirboys on December 27/28 benefited from a relaxation of discipline and practiced a ritual of inversion: they had the right to do what they were forbidden on the grounds that God “brings down the mighty and lifts up the humble”.

Max Harris 2011, Sacred Folly. A New History of the Feast of Fools

J. Heers 1983 Fêtes des fous et carnavals

Seebacher, Le système du vide dans Notre-Dame de Paris, Littérature 5, 1972, 95-106