Fork, demonic object disliked by the church for centuries
Saint Pier Damiani called it a “demonic object” since in theChristian imaginary it was an instrument from the devil: we should not be surprised, therefore, that throughout the Middle Ages much of Europe used to bring food to her mouth directly with bare hands and not with a fork.
What few know is that the fork was actually already used in ancient Greece and Rome several centuries before the birth of Christ.
The fork appeared before Christ
Indeed, some specimens of forks have been discovered in China dated between 2,400 and 1,900 BC. In the Mediterranean area the fork was often realized with a bone or wooden handle and two prongs (the sprouts of the fork) in bronze or in silver that allowed to spit food and bring it to the mouth without having to dirty your hands.
But why did the fork fall into disuse after the fall of Rome and the division of the empire between East and West?
Use was lost with the fall of Rome
Because while in the area under the influence of Constantinople the use of forks, as well as spoons and other cutlery, was maintained in the West and in Italy in particular the barbarian invasions ended by losing their use, however with some exceptions.
For example, the king of the Lombards, Rotari, in a miniature of the Code of Lombard Laws of the Cava monastery is represented engaged to clean the fish with a knife and a tool similar to a fork.
The fork reappears at the table after the year one thousand
The use of the “demonic instrument” was btw limited to the kitchen and not to the table. To see the fork reappear on the table in Italy we must wait for the year 1.003 during the wedding dinner between the Byzantine princess Maria Argyropoulaina and the son of the Doge of Venice Giovanni Orseolo.
The princess arranged for a fork next to the plate of each diner and this caused a scandal, being considered an offense to Christian traditions.
For the Church it was a demonic instrument
When a few decades later Teodora Anna Doukaina, wife of the Doge of Venice and sister of the Byzantine emperor Michele VII Ducas, introduced small golden forks to the table, Saint Pier Damiani sent invective against the woman, accused of using a “demonic object”.
Not satisfied, after the premature death, due to an illness, of the woman, Saint Pier Damiani called this death a “divine punishment” for the sin of having used the forks.
The Sun King admitted the use of the fork
Committed to put in a bad light every use due to the church and the Byzantine culture after the schism between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of 1054, the Italian church continued to condemn the use of the fork, but gradually it began to spread among the wealthy classes as in Florence and in France.
To recover its place in the noble tables in a stable way however, the fork will have to wait for 1648, when the Sun King accepted it and promoted its use at the new Versailles court.
Gennaro Spadaccini elaborated the current forms
In the following decades gradually the fork spread thanks to the intelligence of Gennaro Spadaccini, chamberlain at the court of Ferdinando IV of Borbone, in Naples, who brought the number of prongs from three to four, shortening the length and making the “demonic instrument” suitable either to pierce the meat or to roll the spaghetti.
The fork, however, remained banned from Catholic convents for many years: only the American revolution first and then the industrial one allowed the fork to reappear massively on the tables of the old and new world, in spite of ecclesiastical anathemas.