Veterinary Past

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

  • L. Devriese
  • J. De Smet


In the monotheistic religions emerging in the Middle-East, the cradle of our civilization, pigs were of low esteem. Eating their meat was even forbidden in the Mosaic laws, most probably because in arid or semi-arid regions these animals were in competition with humans for food. The taboo on pork could not be maintained within Christian practice once the church established its dominant position in Western Europe. 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 epidemics of ergotism in humans and severe inflammations of widely diverse etiology in animals as well as in humans. The most typical of these, which occurred in pigs, was termed Saint Anthony’s fire, as was ergotism in humans. It was mainly the religious order of the Antonites that propagated the piglet as the attribute of this saint. This unusual religious association symbolizes the acceptance in mediaeval Western Europe of pork as high-quality food.

How to Cite:

Devriese, L. & De Smet, J., (2018) “Saint-Anthony’s fire in humans and pigs: how eating pork was Christianized in Western Europe”, Vlaams Diergeneeskundig Tijdschrift 87(6), 359-367. doi:

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Published on
27 Dec 2018
Peer Reviewed