Banning clerical jesters

The church had a complex relationship with fools; some priests or monks occasionally or regularly took on the fool’s role, and that is discounting the whole universe of ‘holy fools’. In addition, there were cardinals and popes who had their own court fools.   

The flip-side of this was the mockery fools made of religion and the church, with the compliment being returned in church opprobrium cast on the whole fool caboodle.  

In this case, the church’s ire was aimed specifically at clerical jesters, threatening them with various forms of defrocking. In 1291, the Council of Salzburg attacked clerics for acting as jesters, rather than merely enjoying their entertainments – among the multitude of itinerant entertainers who wandered about medieval Europe were the roguish, adventurous drop-out monks who found the confines of the monastery too constricting. They were the vagi or goliardi immortalized in Orff’s Carmina Burana, and the church attempted to ostracize them,

We order that the clergy must not be jesters, goliards or buffoons; if they pursue such disgraceful accomplishments for a whole year, they are to be stripped of all ecclesiastical privileges.


Praecipimus quod clerici non sint ioculatores, goliardi seu bufones, declarantes quod, si per annum illam artem diffamatorium exercuerint, omni privilegio ecclesiastico sint nudati.

Source: quoted in Philip Corbett, The Scurra (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1986), p. 80


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