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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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1: Brother Juniper and the legless pig
NE OF THE great names in the annals of holy foolery is that of Brother Juniper. He was one of St Francis's first followers, and I wouldn't be surprised if he turned up again in this column.

His gifting first came to light when he visited a sick monk and asked if there was anything he could do to make him feel better. The monk replied, "I could really go for a roast pig's foot."

So out went Juniper, found the nearest pig, cut off a foot and cooked it.

It went down a treat with the monk, but not with the swineherd, who was very upset that one of his pigs kept falling over. He went yelling and howling to Francis, who asked Brother Juniper what he thought he was playing at. Juniper couldn't see the problem. "All feet belong to God," he explained, "and they're much better off becoming a work of charity than they are hanging off the underside of some pig."

St Francis didn't see it like that and sent him to apologize.

Brother Juniper cheerfully explained to the swineherd why this was an occasion not for anger but rejoicing, and the swineherd in return explained why Juniper was a gibbering moron, a vicious thief and plenty more besides.

But Juniper was very keen on being insulted, so he hugged the man, thanked him for his charity and asked him to keep up the good work. At which the swineherd was either confused into submission or suddenly convinced he was in the presence of holiness. Because he fell at Juniper's feet, repented, and then took the three-legged pig to the monastery for a slap-up feast for everybody.

So they all ended up happily... apart from the pig.

Please note: No animals were hurt, emotionally or physically, in the telling of this story.

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