Originally, during Lent, you couldn’t eat meat, except for fish. Then rabbits snuck in. As with most religious traditions, the story of why is built on a foundation of lies.
The New York Times did a deep dive into the story of Pope Gregory and his tasty buns in honor of Ash Wednesday. If you never heard of him, he was pope around 600 A.D., and he supposedly declared open season on “fetal rabbits, or laurices.” Yes, fetal rabbits, meaning rabbits eaten out of an eviscerated mama rabbit. French monks then opportunistically started breeding the crap out of them to add some variety to the table during the season of sacrifice and penance. Thus, bunnies were domesticated and taught to deliver chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday.
People aren’t really screaming for rabbits steaming hot out of the uterus anymore, but aside from that, a new scientific report proves this is all a bunch of hooey, according to one of the main authors, Dr. Greger Larson.
“The whole thing is a house of cards,” Dr. Larson said, acknowledging that he too has cited the story just like many other researchers. The remaining question, he said, is: “Why did we never question this? Why were we so willing to believe in this origin myth?”
Maybe because no one even knew they were allowed to eat womb rabbits? The excitement of a scientist studying rabbit DNA discovering a very specific Catholic myth basically no one has heard of is extremely charming, however.
This was all discovered when a graduate student was sent to check the accuracy of a tool used by researchers to check when species diverge based on their DNA. Whether you’ve heard of Pope Gregory or not, conventional wisdom has held that rabbits were domesticated for food around 600 A.D. That grad student, Evan K. Irving-Pease, decided to check the historical facts and look for the official papal edict. But it doesn’t exist!
The lie has been perpetuated since 1936, when a German geneticist named Hans Nachtsheim mentioned an entirely different old religious dude named Gregory, Saint Gregory of Tours, in a paper on domestication. Nachtshiem said Saint Gregory claimed laurices were popular during Lent, so that suddenly became true:
Actually, Saint Gregory merely described one person consuming fetal rabbits during Lent, and that person was sick, died shortly thereafter, and may not even have been a Christian.
In 1963, another guy writing about rabbit domestication named Frederick E. Zeuner wrote the same thing. And so the whole thing snowballed into the story we never even heard of until today. So, when were rabbits domesticated? Well, we’ve been hunting and eating them for many centuries, and monks did keep them in hutches for gnawing on, but it wasn’t really until the 18th century that true signs of domestication began to show in their “skeletal remains.”
You can eat laurices this Lent if you want to, but know it’s not because it’s okay with the Catholic church: it’s because you a freak for bunny fetuses.