Vatican Corner 11-04-18

Horses originated in North America as indicated by the fossil records, but they moved to Eurasia when the climate cooled in the Pleistocene Epoch. They returned thousands of years later to the Americas, brought by the conquistadors. Since the end of the last ice age, humans have been hunting and eating wild horse. Animal bones found in many caves throughout Europe indicate that horsemeat was a regular dietary item. Domestication of the horse began as early as 4000 BCE which likely started the shift in the way that people thought about horses. It became a taboo meat in the ancient Middle East, possibly because they were associated with companionship, royalty, and war. The book of Leviticus – the third book of the Old Testament rules out eating horse. It is not a ruminant animal (with a 4 compartment stomach) like cows or sheep nor a cloven-hoofed animal (two toes) like goats or deer, so it is not kosher and cannot be eaten by observant Jews. Muslims can eat horsemeat but they have sometimes been discouraged from doing so. From the time of Saint Paul, the Church was opposed to any food taboos that placed obstacles in the path of potential converts. As stated in Acts 5:29, God only asks Christians that “Ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood and from things strangled.” Yet Pope Gregory III in the eighth century made an extraordinary departure from these principles issuing an edict to his subjects against eating horsemeat calling it an “impure and detestable” pagan meat. A variety of cultural, military and political factors had combined to convince the leaders of the Catholic Church to take this unprecedented culinary action. At that time pagan groups in Europe were accustomed to eating horse. They believed they drew strength from Odin, the chief god of their belief system, through ceremonies that involved eating horsemeat. Therefore that practice became a clear target for the Vatican. Decrees officially linked the Pagan practice of slaughtering and eating horses with opposition to the church, and doing so became a punishable offence. Pope Gregory III sent his agent Boniface (later to become Saint Boniface) on a mission to destroy the Pagan ways of northern Europe and to punish those eating horse. Christian Europe was also constantly outmaneuvered by the thundering cavalry of the Pagan regions. The Christian infantries were molasses-slow compared with the Pagan’s horses. Every resource suddenly went into the buying, breeding, and feeding of warhorses to construct their own cavalry. Horses became too valuable to be used for feeding people. The Church’s anti-horse eating policy is thought to have had a lasting impact on public perception and be a partial explanation why English-speaking countries like the US, England, Ireland, Australia, and some parts of Canada consider eating horse as taboo. Another reason for the taboo is the notion of horses as pets and companions. Many countries ranging from Mexico to Kazakhstan, to China to Germany to Sweden to Italy still widely consume horsemeat today. It is a red meat, and said to have a touch of minerality and sweetness. South Americans generally shy away from eating it, but some countries process the meat for export. No matter If you are a meat eater or a vegetarian, life comes from and is sustained by life. It is the undeniable order of things. God created that system, and we are bound to it.