CATS AND SAINTS
During the Dark Ages the cat, not yet completely reviled, still had its admirers even amongst those closest to the church. As the contest between Christianity and Paganism raged, St. Gertrude of Nivelles in 640 became known for her benevolence towards cats. Most often pictured with rats and mice at her feet, she was known for her vigilance against vermin, and so it makes sense that she welcomed the help of the cat.
Prior to St. Gertrude, St Agatha (d.251) known as a frequent visitor to cemeteries, became the patron saint of death and cats in some parts of southwestern France. Some believe that she appears on her feast day, February 5th, in the form of a cat to punish those who have angered her. Moreover, the ascetic, St. Jerome† (340 – 420), owned a cat as seen in Da Messina’s painting.
Finally, the patron saint of lawyers, St. Ives (1253-1303), has a cat as his emblem, a symbol of constant vigilance (Spence, 1917).