Debunked: The Strange Tale of Pope Gregory and the Rabbits


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I did ask some with experience, simply to make sure. Charlie Camosy, a theologian at Fordham College who writes about ethics and animals, learn the paper and supplementary materials from Dr. Larson’s article in Traits in Ecology & Evolution. “Nothing about that is acquainted to me,” he emailed again. He did say that misconceptions about spiritual concepts on animals have been widespread.

However Dr. Larson and others took the story as a right, and the debunking began out as one thing else solely. Dr. Larson researches the origins of home animals like canine and pigs. He requested a graduate pupil in his Oxford College laboratory, Evan Ok. Irving-Pease, to make use of the well-accepted date of rabbit domestication, 600, as a foundation for checking the accuracy of a instrument that helps researchers use trendy DNA to look again in time and estimate when completely different species diverged.

Mr. Irving-Pease first did a little bit of historic housekeeping and looked for the papal edict. “He comes again,” Dr. Larson stated, “and says, ‘Small downside. It doesn’t exist.”

That was solely the start. With a tug on that one thread, the entire story unraveled.

Mr. Irving-Pease went on to doc a type of historic phone sport, with an preliminary error embellished and prolonged by one author after one other.


A portrait of Pope Gregory the Nice, who researchers have concluded wasn’t the inspiration for the domestication of rabbits. It was Gregory, Saint Gregory of Excursions, who merely described one particular person consuming fetal rabbits throughout Lent.

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The Print Collector, through Getty Pictures

The issue started, he stated, in 1936 when a German geneticist, Hans Nachtsheim, writing about domestication, stated that Saint Gregory of Excursions (not Pope Gregory, a unique particular person altogether) had written that fetal rabbits have been in style throughout Lent.

Really, Saint Gregory merely described one particular person consuming fetal rabbits throughout Lent, and that particular person was sick, died shortly thereafter, and should not even have been a Christian.

Nonetheless, in 1963, one other author, Frederick E. Zeuner, in one other e book on domestication, added to the error and stated the fetal rabbits weren’t thought-about meat.

“From that time on,” Mr. Irving-Pease stated in an electronic mail, “the story takes on a lifetime of its personal, as additional small particulars get embellished in every retelling.” In the long run, he wrote, the “watery” setting of the womb made the fetal rabbits fish, “St. Gregory turns into Pope Gregory and, lastly, his manuscript turns into a papal edict.”

With that story debunked, Dr. Larson says, the entire enterprise of rabbit domestication is unclear. It’s identified that home rabbits descended from the European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, which originated in France and Spain.

And, they have been stored by people in penned warrens and fattened for slaughter in hutches at the least for the reason that first century B.C. That isn’t, nevertheless, the identical as controlling their breeding, which is often thought-about a mark of domestication.

Dr. Larson and colleagues write that the earliest proof of skeletal modifications that mark a distinction between home and wild rabbits happens within the 18th century, across the time individuals started protecting rabbits as pets. At such current instances, DNA proof will not be very helpful.

Dr. Larson means that the explanation for the acceptance of the fetal-rabbit story is that even scientists fall sufferer to the attraction of an excellent narrative. And he stated, it signifies an underlying, and mistaken view of domestication as an occasion, not a course of. The domestication of rabbits, he believes, includes a protracted interplay with people. They have been hunted for 1000’s of years in Southwest France and the Iberian Peninsula; consumed as fetuses; stored by Romans and through Medieval instances in warrens and hutches; and most lately bred as pets. All of that is the story of their domestication.

That’s the place Leif Andersson, of Uppsala College in Sweden, disagrees. Dr. Andersson, who was a senior writer of a 2014 paper on the rabbit genome, discovered the debunking of the parable persuasive, however he famous in an electronic mail that he and his co-authors didn’t cite the story of their genome paper.

However, he stated, he didn’t agree that every one cases of domestication have been steady processes over a protracted interval. For rabbits particularly, he stated, that conclusion was “deceptive.” He stated there’s a consensus that it occurred in trendy instances and that his paper confirmed that home rabbits are extra intently associated to wild rabbits from southern France than to these from the Iberian Peninsula.

Rabbits might have been domesticated round 600, he wrote, saying that he discovered nothing in Dr. Larson’s paper to exclude the likelihood that, papal edicts apart, “French monks or farmers in Southern France, as a result of they liked rabbit meat, made a selected effort throughout a interval of 50-100 years to ascertain tame rabbits that turned the founding inhabitants for the home rabbit.”

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