Public Art: Ogre Fountain, also known as Kindlifresserbrunnen, Child Eater Fountain and “Fountain of the Eater of Little Children”
Sculptor: © Hans Gieng (c.1525 – died 1562)
Date Unveiled: c. 1545-1546
Description: High on a pedestal sits an ogre merrily munching on a child with a bag full of more screaming children beside him.
Location: The child eater can be found at the Kornhausplatz (Granary Place) in Bern, Switzerland.
Ogre Fountain Controversy: There are many theories and a great deal of controversy over Gieng’s choice of ogre hat. It has been argued that the pointed hat resembles a Jewish hat and could have been chosen because of the myth/claim that some religious minorities, including Jews, murdered children to use their blood in religious rituals. Known as the blood libel, it was used as a recurring theme for the persecution of Jews throughout history. One claim was that human blood was required for the baking of matzos for Passover, which is absurd, considering using blood in cooking is not kosher and therefore prohibited.
It probably didn’t help that the Ogre Fountain was painted completely yellow, the color used to vilify Jews during medieval times.
During the Renaissance period, a well-known blood libel case may have inspired the artist. In 1475 a little boy, now known as Simon of Trent, went missing in the town of Trento, Italy around Easter time. Simon’s father accused the local Jewish community of kidnapping and murdering his son for his blood so it could be used for Passover matzohs. The seed was more than likely planted by a Franciscan preacher who had delivered a series of scathing sermons vilifying the Jews a few days prior to the boy’s disappearance.
On Easter Sunday, Simon’s body was allegedly found in the cellar of a Jewish family in Trent. Oh boy! Next thing you know 18 Jewish men and 5 Jewish women were charged with “ritual killing of a Christian child in order to use his blood in Jewish religious rites”. In a series of interrogations (and torture) all the men confessed. Fifteen were sentenced to death and burned at the stake.
Enter the local Catholic Church, who, lead by a local bishop, tried to have Simon canonized. Over 100 miracles were directly attributed to the child within a year of his murder. News soon spread across Italy, Austria, and Germany of the miracles. In 1588 Pope Sixtus V (a Franciscan) declared Simon the patron saint of kidnap and torture victims. Unfortunately for Saint Simon, Pope Paul VI removed him as a saint in 1965.
Ogre Fountain Trivia :
The Ogre Fountain was built as a replacement for a wooden well in the 15th century.
The frieze at the base of the column depicting bears going off to war was designed by Hans Rudolf Manuel.
Some believe the ogre is a depiction of the Greek god Cronus, who ate his own kids to stop a prophecy which predicted he would be overthrown by one of his sons.
Another theory is that the statue is of Krampus, a creature in folklore that ate children who misbehaved during the festive season.