A very popular "demotivational" website in Poland has an image that claim that in Medieval times, the Roman Church forbade the use of forks, calling then "tools of the Devil" and threatening to excommunicate people who use forks to eat. It quotes Hildegard of Bingen, who allegedly said that to use forks was to insult God.

The page cites this 2012 Polish blog post as its source. The blog post makes the same claim, while elaborating that the similarity of the word "widelec" ("fork") and "widły" ("pitchfork") in Polish is a consequence of the aforementioned polices of the Church. It also elaborates that when a woman who owned a fork fell ill and died, St. Bonaventure said that the illness was a divine punishment. The blog post also claims that forks were widely used in the Byzantine Empire and that, in spite of the efforts of the Church to ban them, they started appearing in the West as well, even in monasteries.

However, the blog post doesn't provide sources for any of this.

Did the Roman Church attempt to ban the use of forks for eating in Medieval times, linking these tools to the Devil?

  • Go to DeepL and put in this sentence: "I eat at the table with a fork, and I throw hay with a pitchfork." You're going to have an exceedingly difficult time finding any language in which "fork" and "pitchfork" are not closely related words, or even exactly the same word. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and it would require extraordinary evidence indeed to make a convincing case that the similarity between these words in so many languages is not due merely to the similar shape of the objects.
    – Kyralessa
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 8:05

2 Answers 2


Absence of evidence for a church ban, but some individual Roman Catholics expressed dislike of it

From the Wikipedia page on the fork

The fork's adoption in northern Europe was slower. Its use was first described in English by Thomas Coryat in a volume of writings on his Italian travels (1611), but for many years it was viewed as an unmanly Italian affectation.[15] Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of its use, St. Peter Damian seeing it as "excessive delicacy":[11] It was not until the 18th century that the fork became commonly used in Great Britain[16] [.]

There is no mention that the church as a whole banned it.

A Google search on "catholic church fork" provides this passage:

What’s more even the church was against the use of forks (despite them being in the Bible)! Some writers for the Roman Catholic Church declared it an excessive delicacy, God in his wisdom had provided us with natural forks, in our fingers, and it would be an insult to him to substitute them for these metallic devices.

...but there is no source for that claim so it is hard to tell if the writer is conflating the individuals with the church or not.

Another similar passage is this:

So it's not surprising that the first appearance of forks in the West was in Venice, the European bridge to the East and terminus of the Silk Road. The "patient zero" of forks was apparently an 11th-century Byzantine princess who married a Venetian doge and brought golden forks as part of her dowry. The Venetians were appalled when they saw her using her fork, seeing it as spiting God: one clergyman said, "God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks — his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating." When the princess died two years later, the Venetian church saw it as God's punishment for the pride and vanity and "excessive delicacy" she displayed in her use of forks.

Again, this is not sourced. There is a link about that supposed statement by the clergyman but it does not lead to anything supporting that such a statement was ever made.

Apart from that I find no mention of anything like a ban issued by the church on the first 10 pages of search results.

I cannot prove a negative, but I would expect a Roman Catholic church ban on something as common as cutlery would have left a larger imprint.

In conclusion: There is lack of evidence for a ban, and although lack of evidence for a ban is not evidence for a lack of a ban, that I think is as far as we will get.

[11]: Wilson, Bee. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. New York: Basic, 2012. Print.

[15]: Petroski, Henry (1992), The evolution of useful things, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-6797-4039-1

[16]: Charing Worh (2014), Types of Cutlery in the UK, Charing Worth, retrieved March 24, 2014

  • 3
    Wikipedia is a great general resource for defining terms, but it isn't a great source for resolving controversial issues, and generally isn't accepted here. Follow up the sources and quote from them.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 9:48
  • Yes, I did read this Wikipedia post. However, IMO, that Wikipedia doesn't mention something, does not yet mean this didn't happen
    – gaazkam
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 11:36
  • @gaazkam Well we cannot prove a negative. All we can do is point to absence of indications that it did happen.
    – user32299
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 11:38
  • @MichaelK: This is indeed a difficult problem. The typical way we deal with it here is to find an expert in the field who has looked for evidence and cannot find it. We can't accept that merely a random person on the Internet can't find it because maybe they just didn't look hard enough.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 15:07
  • 1
    Umm.. That's the job of the answerer, but I would suggest following those links you found on Wikipedia and seeing if they are experts and have expressed an opinion.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 16:36

As far as I know the Catholic Church didn't forbid the use of forks, but many senior churchmen who had a foul and unholy lust for power and control over people opposed the use of forks.

Several Byzantine princesses who married into the families of Doges of Venice were accused of ultra luxurious practices like using forks.

Theodora was married to Domenico Selvo in Constantinople (1075) with full Imperial pageantry, and crowned with the Imperial diadem by her brother, Michael VII Doukas. Theodora brought a large Greek retinue to Venice, and rendered herself extremely unpopular because of her aristocratic bearing and haughty manner. What was then perceived as her Byzantine extravagance included the use of a fork, finger bowls, napkins, and sconce candles. The Dogaressa died of a degenerative illness, which was seen by the Venetians as a divine judgment for her "immoderate" lifestyle. There is an account of her lavish manners written by Peter Damian, the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, entitled "Of the Venetian Doge's wife, whose body, after her excessive delicacy, entirely rotted away."1

It is not possible however for Peter Damian to have written anything about the marriage of Theodora and Domenico: their marriage took place in 1075 and Peter died in 1072. The same stories of Peter Damian have been equally attributed to Maria Argyropoulaina and Giovanni Orseolo: she the niece of the Byzantine Emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII and he the son of Doge Pietro II. Maria and Giovanni were married in Constantinople in 1005 or 1006. Both died in 1007 when a plague swept through the city-state. Peter Damian was born between 995 and 1007: he would have been, at most, 11 years old when Maria, Giovanni and their son arrived in Venice.


Maria Argyra or Maria Argyropoulina (Greek: Μαρία Αργυρή or Αργυροπουλίνα ; died 1007) was the granddaughter of the Byzantine emperor Romanos II and niece of the emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII.

In the Venetian Chronicle by John the Deacon, it is mentioned that Maria was the daughter of a noble patrician, called Argyropoulos, who was a descendant of the imperial family. This information is confirmed by the chronicle of Andrea Dandolo, who says that she was the niece of the emperor Basil II. As a member of the Argyros family Maria was also relative to the future Byzantine emperor Romanos III Argyros.

In 1004 Maria was married to Giovanni Orseolo, the son of the Doge of Venice Pietro II Orseolo, in the Iconomium palace in Constantinople with full imperial pageantry - the couple was crowned with golden diadems by Basil II. Maria brought to her husband great dowry, including a palace in the imperial capital, where they lived after the wedding. Basil also honored Maria's husband with the title of patrician.

At her wedding she used cutting edge, fashionable gold forks. But in the 11th century the fork was a controversial item. “She was roundly condemned by the local clergy for her decadence, with one going so far as to say, ‘God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.’”

Before they left Constantinople, Maria Argyra begged the emperor for pieces of the holy relics of Saint Barbara, which were brought to Venice by her.

Maria Argyre and Giovanni Orseolo had a son, who was named after emperor Basil II.

In 1007 Maria along her husband and son died when plague swept through the city-state.

So some clergymen believed that:

‘God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.’

I suppose that those same clergymen would forbid the peasants on properties owned by the church from using plows, and hoes, and other tools, and demand that the peasants do everything barehanded while working the land to support those clergymen.

The "byzantine" Theophanu (c. 955-990) Empress consort of Otto II from 973 to 983 and regent for Otto III from 983 to 990, was also criticized by some for her luxurious habits.


I believe that the "decadent eastern habits" of Theophanu and her son Otto III may have included - Gasp! Shudder! - using forks.

  • 1
    "I suppose that those same clergymen would forbid the peasants on properties owned by the church from using plows, and hoes, and other tools, and demand that the peasants do everything barehanded while working the land to support those clergymen." Sources? Commented Mar 20, 2021 at 16:59
  • The reference to "senior churchmen who had a foul and unholy lust for power and control over people" seems to be entirely irrelevant personal commentary, as is the "I suppose that..." comment already highlighted by Elise above.
    – IMSoP
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 13:08

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