Outrage as celebrating Bragança villagers set fire to terrified cat

A video of a cat being burned almost at the stake during a festival in a small northern Portuguese village has caused yet another wave of controversy on social media, with thousands signing an online petition calling for a ban of what they describe as a “cruel barbaric” tradition.

The macabre “animal sacrifice” happened on Wednesday during the celebrations of the “Noite de São João” in the small village of Mourão in Vila Flor, Bragança.

In the video posted online, people can be seen lighting fire to a wooden pole lined with hay on a street filled with spectators.

They watch in delight as the fire reaches the top of the pole, where a cat is imprisoned inside a clay pot.

The pot then falls to the ground, releasing the cat which is clearly on fire and runs in circles before disappearing out of the sight of the camera.

With no information as to whether or not the cat survived, the video prompted “various criminal complaints” to Vila Flor court within hours of the incident.

But as the outrage was shared on social media, an 80-year-old resident of the village explained the cat had not only survived the horror, it was “bem bonito” (very beautiful) and had been through the barbaric ceremony for the last “three or four years”.

Talking to Lusa, Aida Alves said the fuss being generated over the internet was “ridiculous”.

“No cat has ever died and this one is looking fine. The GNR have been to see him.”

The cat “burnt a bit of fur, but his owner has seen to it” and he is apparently fully recovered.

The GNR are certainly investigating the incident. In a statement put out today they said they were looking into “who was behind this situation”.

The tradition is known locally as “Queima do Gato” (Cat Burning) harks back to the time of the Celts.

It is so ‘ancient’ that nowhere is the reason for cat-burning properly explained.

An 18th century French Catholic priest Jean Meslier suggested it stems from Cartesian philosophy, centering on the premise that non-human animals were “viewed as possessing no soul” and therefore could feel no pain.

Certainly, the tradition in Portugal has more or less died a death. Wikipedia explains that due to protests, cat-burning had stopped in all but a few communities by 2008.

Correio da Manhã reports that the video that has shocked thousands was first posted on the YouTube account of local dance group (Grupo de Danças e Cantares de Vila Flor). It has now been removed as the welter of complaints continues to grow.

The Resident tried in vain to get a comment from Vila Flor council, and as we wrote this story on Friday, the online petition to end ‘Queima do Gato’ had amassed nearly 6,300 signatures (http://peticaopublica.com/pview.aspx?pi=PT77607).