One of the most striking aspects of the holy fool in European culture is its ubiquity: the figure appears in various guises across many nationalities and traditions. This is made possible because of the protean nature of the figure, for holy foolishness is a concept that can hold different emphases depending on the particular cultural background. Rather like a medieval palimpsest, new meanings are frequently grafted onto older forms. It is no surprise, therefore, that many of these variegated forms of holy foolishness have percolated into the modern cinematic medium. If, however, we are to account for the functions and attractions of the figure across such a wide cultural space, we need to understand its origin and development. By unpicking the cultural and religious roots of the figure, it will be possible to understand how contemporary forms have sprouted out of older traditions, accommodating and adapting to particular national and cultural contexts. This is particularly true when interpreting the modern critical functions of holy foolishness, which, I argue, need to be read through their common origin in a shared religious tradition. Before we can begin to analyse its impact in modern cinema, we therefore first need to explain the roots of the concept. This chapter will map the holy fool from its earliest appearance, through its development in various European contexts, in order to explain its entry into the twentieth-century cinematic world.