Odd Facts and Myths from History

Cloth Hall, Ypres, Belgium, before shelling during the First World War destroyed much of it. Wikimedia

3. The Belgian festival of Kattenstoett celebrated (and celebrates) cats

During the Middle Ages, the city of Ypres in what is now Belgium, developed a tradition of disposing of cats by tossing them from the belfry of a bell tower at the Cloth Hall. The building was constructed throughout most of the 13th century, completed in the early 14th, and was one of the largest buildings constructed during the medieval period that was not a military fortification or a monastery. It was used to store wool and cloth, and for the sale of the same. Why the ancestors of the good people of Belgium decided to toss cats out of the belfry to their doom remains a matter of speculation.

Some say it was a celebration signifying victory over witchcraft and other satanic rituals. Some say the cats were deliberately kept in the hall over the winter, to protect the wool from rats and mice, and destroyed in the spring when their feline services were no longer needed. It was a manner of dealing with the natural production of kittens. The Cloth Hall was largely destroyed by artillery fire during the heavy fighting in the area during the First World War, but was rebuilt. Since the 1950s a triennial festival commemorates the cat, including the tossing of stuffed toy kittens from the bell tower.