These Bishops were Hard Core!
February 27, 2010 12:55 PM   Subscribe

According to legend, back in the bad old days of the 10th C, Bishop Hatto (actually Archbishop of Mainz), decided to deal with excess mouths during a famine by burning said people alive. In retribution, he was eaten alive by a horde of angry mice, supposedly in the Mausturm near Bingen. The story ended up in Baring-Gould's Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (print wiki) and has been widely celebrated in poetry, much of it awful. It probably was an influence on Lovecraft's story "The Rats in the Walls."

In the interest of clarity, this was Archbishop Hatto II of Mainz. Hatto I, of approximately a century earlier, sometimes gets the same fate attributed to him, but also may have been struck by lightning or thrown into Mount Etna by the Devil.
posted by GenjiandProust (9 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
In the interests of full disclosure, I was reminded of this story by a recent entry in the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast. I first read the story while traveling in Germany as a child (probably in an edition of Baring-Gould), and it still creeps me out.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:57 PM on February 27, 2010

Your first link is a great picture, hosted by a great blog, but alas!--put them together, and you have to click the link twice to see the picture properly.
posted by shii at 1:27 PM on February 27, 2010

Huh. I wonder if Hatto's legendary demise inspired this Victorian death by rats.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:36 PM on February 27, 2010

Excellent post -- Baring-Gould could merit a post of his own

In continued reading of the Baring-Gould book, he goes on to somewhat dismiss that specific legend. He presents a good case for it stemming from pre-christian folklore/religion, and sacrifices of a similar nature. Apparently the story shows up in various forms around Europe.

/Am now going back to start Curious Myths from page one. Thanks!
posted by m450n at 3:21 PM on February 27, 2010

Burning people alive turned out to be an enduring tradition of the Catholic church for some centuries subsequent.
posted by telstar at 6:06 PM on February 27, 2010

Curious Myths will occupy some of my time, thanks.
posted by ersatz at 3:51 AM on February 28, 2010

I am disappointed that there are no other posts with the eatenbymice tag.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:26 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Great post.

I had a good read of the Wiki link regarding: "is this a myth?" I was disappointed to find out the discussion was whether he got eaten by mice. I wanted to know if he murdered so many of his townspeople in such a devious act of trickery. That doesn't seem to be called into question.

ps: telstar for the bigoted win! Thanks for bringing it to my attention, champ. Catholics suck.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:38 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am not sure a Medieval potentate, lay or clerical, lighting a group of their subjects on fire would be unusually enough to be occasion for commentary, positive or negative. We don't call them "the bad old days" for no reason at all. This is an element sadly lacking from Society for Creative Anachronism events, in my opinion.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:05 AM on March 1, 2010

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