The small town of Leper in Ypres, Belgium hosts a trienniel festival called Kattenstoet, which commemorates a bizarre tradition from the Middle Ages of hurling cats from the belfry tower to their deaths in the town square below.
Thankfully live cat-throwing no longer forms part of the festivities, but the spectacle, which takes place on the second Sunday of May every three years, is still a pretty odd one. The festival parade through the town features locals dressed up as witches, medieval townsfolk, and, you guessed it, cats.
The Kattenstoet would take place in medieval times with the city’s jester throwing cats off the top of the belfry of the Cloth Hall. Although nobody knows for sure why this took place, theories include the association of cats with witchcraft activities, and their ritual killing being connected with removing evil spirits from the city.
The other theory is that the cats were kept in the Cloth Hall to keep vermin away from the valuable cloth stored there over the winter. When the weather warmed up each spring and the cloth was sold, the cats were disposed of by chucking them off the high belfry!
These annual kitty-massacres took place until 1817, then revived in its modern cat-friendly form in 1930. The closest revellers now get to the gruesome traditions of old is the tossing of toy cats from the belfry, with crowds waiting to catch them below.
Giant, and frankly quite creepy, papier mache cats also form part of the parade. Cieper is the ‘King of the Cats’ and his cat wife (bear with us) Minneke Poes is also deemed worthy of a giant papier mache representation (see above).
Marching bands also take part in the feline festivities, and the 2012 festival is said to hold the heady delights of a ‘Cats of the World’ procession, which will include a five metre tall Garfield. Spectators have plenty of opportunity to get into the swing of things, and the festival is said to attract large numbers of cat fanatics to Belgium. Whether this is an appealing or a terrifying prospect is entirely up to you…
No cats were harmed during the making of this blog post or images!