Sexy Codicology

The Adventures of Medieval Bunny, Part I: The Killer Bunny

The Killer Bunny in Medieval Manuscripts

Back in early May 2013 we came across some intriguing and awesome marginalia of rabbits in medieval manuscripts in curious situations and topsy-turvy worlds, among which was the killer bunny.

On May 10th we posted this picture on our Facebook Page:

The Original Killer Bunny

The Killer-Ninja Bunny. BL. Add. 49622 f. 149v.

As imaginable, the first thing that this marginal decoration reminded our followers of was the hilarious scene of the Rabbit of Caerbannog, in Monty Python’s famous movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The legend of the killer bunny was born!

The post was so popular and we decided to create the Adventures of Medieval Bunny.

Often, in marginalia in medieval manuscripts we find odd images with all sorts of monsters, half man-beasts and monkeys. Even in religious books, the margins sometimes have drawings that simply are making fun of monks, nuns and bishops. Not only the monkey is a popular animal to take over the human role in the marginal pictures, but also the bunny. In this blog post we like to show you images of bunnies that have decided to go killer or ninja, the Bunnies striking back!

Hunting the Medieval Killer Bunny in Illuminated Manuscripts

Hunting scenes are common in marginalia in medieval illuminated manuscripts. This usually means that the bunny is the hunted. However, as we discovered, often the illuminators decided to change the roles around; then you end up with something like this:

Psychotic Killer Rabbit

A psychotic killer bunny from – Paris, Bibl. de la Sorbonne, ms. 0121, f. 023

The Hare as a Medieval Symbol

Here at Sexy Codicology, we got curious: “What do Bunnies represent in Medieval Culture?”

A very useful primary source to consult is the medieval Bestiary (a so-called “Book of Beasts”), typical of England. These manuscripts present a collection of descriptions of various animals, both real and mythical. In these books it would be explained what their symbolism was and what they represented within Christian religion. For example: the panther was thought to be a multi-coloured beast that breathed a very sweet smell that would attract other animals; the beaver would amputate its testicles because it knew that the hunter wanted them in order to make a powerful medicine; or the foul dragon (aka, the Devil), the only arch-enemy of the elephant and the panther (aka, Jesus Christ). As it is easy to understand, these texts contained myths and superstitions and had quite the share of fantasy in them. Their main objective was to moralize the reader. Today, Bestiaries are fascinating sources that give us a peek into the medieval mind and culture. The information that people would get from these manuscripts would influence their daily lives, to a certain point.

What about the hare? Well, the hare, called by its latin name ‘lepus‘, also had a entry in the Bestiaries and, of course, it had a Christian symbol behind it. In theory, the hare represented the man that feared God, but put his trust in him, and not in people (unlike the hedgehog… but that is another story.)

Although, sometimes the Medieval Bunnies just want to have some fun and do a game of jousting with their animal friends:

Jousting Bunny

The jousting bunny against the jousting dog – Royal 10 E IV f. 294

Clearly, the illuminators of these manuscripts did not have the intention to represent the bunny as it was intended in the bestiaries. They are drolleries, a particular type of marginalia, popular in Europe between the 13th and the 15th century. In these decorations you can often find various creatures and monsters behaving in an odd way. Animals, on the other hand, were often given human traits. Just like in the images above.

Stay tuned for more episodes of The Adventures of Medieval Bunny!

And beware of the killer bunny…


Co-Manager and Web-Editor at Sexy Codicology and MA graduate of Book and Digital Media Studies and English Language and Culture. Lover of medieval manuscripts, old printed books, history and all things digital. Currently searching for a job in Digital Humanities or the bookhistorical field.

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