The Tragic Martyrdom of Saint Ham and Saint Sausage

By Elise Watson |

1 April 2020

In honour of this auspicious day, the USTC is proud to announce a new and exciting discovery. Using heretofore unseen eyewitness records, we have learned that in 1521, Pope Leo X solemnly canonised holy two martyrs to be added to the pantheon of saints: Saint Jambon (Saint Ham) and Saint Andouille (Saint Sausage).

At least, this was the case according to the anonymously authored satire pamphlet Le devot et sainct sermon de monseigneur sainct Ja[m]bo[n] et de madame sai[n]cte andoulle (The Devout and Holy Sermon of Monsignor Saint Ham and Madame Saint Sausage) (USTC 26459), printed by Jean Jehannot in Paris circa 1521. This short octavo pamphlet of only eight leaves forms part of a genre called the ‘sermon joyeux’ (joyous sermon, meaning mock sermon or parody sermon), which was popular in the Low Countries and France in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. This pamphlet, using a conversational blend of vernacular French and ecclesiastical Latin, recounts the stirring and dramatic tale of the martyrdom of Saints Ham and Sausage, slain for their faith and devoured by Parisian townspeople.

USTC 26459.
Title page of Le devot et sainct sermon de monseigneur sainct Jambon et de madame saincte Andoulle [1521]. Image courtesy of Gallica, BnF Rés. Ye-2714. USTC 26459.
The pamphlet itself follows the conventions of much of the other cheap printed literature of the time: simple in format and layout, and highly theatrical in content. Like many other pieces of early modern printed literature, this satire was not intended to be read silently to oneself, but destined for public performance. In the early sixteenth century, print and oral culture did not exist as separate worlds. Instead, they functioned as dual facets of the same desire for public entertainment. Print both provided a means of preserving stories and ballads passed down through generations, and satisfying public demand by propagating new songs, monologues and plays for every kind of community event. This satirical piece in particular was probably intended to be performed during Lent, at which time the populace would regularly be fasting from indulgences like ham and sausage, and would have been accustomed to hearing the kind of sermon so thoroughly parodied here. The orality of this piece is relevant even in the present day; the theatrical troupe Les Enfans Sans Abri even performed an English adaptation of The Devout and Holy Sermon of Monsignor Saint Ham and Madame Saint Sausage at the Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies conference in 2016, demonstrating persuasively that much of its humour still resonates with a lay audience.

In its structure, the story of Saints Ham and Sausage meticulously imitates the composition of a medieval sermon, including fragments of familiar Latin liturgy like the Trinitarian formula. The story provides the fates of the doomed pair in great detail. Saint Sausage is ultimately boiled and cut up, while Saint Ham is salted to death. They are both sold in the marketplace, and Saint Sausage is fed to the townswomen. In an unsurprising bit of innuendo, Saint Sausage not only gives the townswomen toothaches from being stuffed in their mouths, but they also become mysteriously (or not-so-mysteriously) pregnant after ingesting the saint. The ‘miracles’ that recommend Saints Ham and Sausage to canonisation are inevitably related to the spirit of celebration they inspired through their deaths.

The story takes the idea of a sermon’s lofty delivery from the pulpit and turns it on its head, bringing in vulgar, often crude, jokes in place. These narratives followed a familiar pattern of social inversion invoked by medieval drama: the most holy form of exposition, the sermon, is replaced with scatological and sexual humour. The innuendo flows freely in this performance of popular humour, juxtaposing hagiographical tropes of self-sacrifice, martyrdom, and suffering with the more immediately relatable joys of eating, drinking, and carousing that these performances were designed to evoke.

BnF Rés. Ye-2714.
In the second part of the sermon, Saints Ham and Sausage face their fates and are canonised. Leaf B2v of BnF Rés. Ye-2714. Image courtesy of Gallica. USTC 26459.

With this ‘sermon joyeux’, Saints Ham and Sausage take their place in a venerable multitude of their French and Dutch peers from this period, including St Falsehood (Fausset), St Slap-ass (Frappecul), St Snot-nose (Snot-tolf), and St Drink Well (Bien Boire). In their own sermons, all of these saints follow similar trajectories, using ecclesiastical structures to mock the moral shortcomings of the community through dramatic performance. And if you thought the meal of these two holy ones was not flavourful enough? Don’t worry! Sermon joyeulx de la vie de S. Ongnon (Joyous Sermon on the Life of Saint Onion) (USTC 95680) came soon after to add to the pot.


Further Reading:

  • For a critical edition of the original text see Jelle Koopmans (Ed.), Recueil de sermons joyeux (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1988).

See also:

  • Ben Parsons and Bas Jongenelen, Comic Drama in the Low Countries, C.1450-1560: A Critical Anthology (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2012), pp. 63-81.
  • Sam Kinser, Rabelais Carnival (University of California Press, 1990).
  • Les Enfants Sans Abri, ‘Sister Sausage and Brother Ham: A performance of an early 16th-century sermon joyeaux’ Performed at the 22nd Annual ACMRS Conference (February 2016).

Elise Watson is a PhD candidate in the Reformation Studies Institute at the University of St Andrews. Her thesis examines printing for the Catholic community in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic. She is broadly interested in minority Catholicism and interconfessionality in the early modern book trade, and the connections between the printed book and the construction of religious identity. She is also the Assistant Editor of Brill’s Book History Online. You can follow her on Twitter at @elisewatson_.

BnF images are available from the Gallica under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence. Copyright of Gallica. Featured image from Rabelais, Gargantua (Valence: Claude La Ville, 1547). USTC 9988.

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