HISTORY OF THE CAT IN THE MIDDLE AGES (PART 4)

The Cat in Church Architecture:

Despite the grim background of the Black Death, art managed to flourish in ornate church architecture.  In addition to Reading Abbey and Tarragon Cathedral, built in the 12th century, various other churches built from the 13th through 16th centuries contain evidence of the cat in either their architecture or in their interior decorations.  In the nave of The Cathedral at Rouen, made famous for having been painted by Monet two centuries later, a hungry cat chases a mouse around a column.  In the onetime Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, cats surround St. Benedict (Van Vechten, 1921), while a stately and rather fearsome cat sits in the capital of the church of St. Pelagius in Denkendorf, Germany.

catincapitalchurchofSt.PelagiusinDenkendorf1200

Cat in Capital of
Church of St. Pelagiusin
Denkendorf
1200 AD

Moreover, at Exeter Cathedral in a door located in the north transept wall, an apparent cat hole allowed the official rat catcher to come and go as it pleased.

Door Cat Hole Medieval14th-15th Century Walters Museum, Cat in Church Architecture, Medieval cats

Door with Cat Hole
Medieval, 14th-15th Century
Walters Museum

The Exeter cat that controlled the mouse population at the Cathedral had a penny a week salary to supplement its diet.  In the obituaries documented at the Cathedral from 1305-1467 there is even mention of a “custoribus et cato” or a cat custodian (Reeves, 1998).

Cats on Misericords

Misericords on many churches’ wooden seats often include representations of cats.  For example, At St. Botolph’s in Lincolnshire, England, two 14th century jesters hold two bagpipe cats tightly while biting their tails hoping for shrill screams to mock the Scottish.

 

Misericord 14th Century St.Bolophes, Boston Two Jesters Biting , Cat in Church Architecture, Medieval cats

Misericord
14th Century
St.Bolophes, Boston
Two Jesters Biting the Tails of Cat Bagpipes

At the Wells Cathedral Somerset, UK, three separate 14th century misericords depict a puppy biting a cat, a cat playing the violin††, and a cat attacking a rat, while a witch and cat decorate another in the Great Malvern Priory, Worcestershire. 

Misericord St.Andrews Cathedral,Wells,UK 14th Century Puppy Attacking a Cat, Cat in Church Architecture, Medieval cats

Misericord
St.Andrews Cathedral,Wells,UK
14th Century
Puppy Attacking a Cat

 

Misericord 14th Century St. Andrews Cathedral, Wells, UK Cat Playing a Fiddle

Misericord
14th Century
St. Andrews Cathedral, Wells, UK
Cat Playing a Fiddle

 

Misericord 15th Century Great Malvern Priory Witch and Cat , Cat in Church Architecture, Medieval cats

Misericord
15th Century
Great Malvern Priory
Witch and Cat

Photo source:  www.misericords.co.uk


Small ledges on the back of the fold up chairs that afforded those who had to stand some comfort.

†† The cat’s association with the violin or fiddle goes back to the ancient statues of Bastet who was often depicted holding a sistrum, which resembled a violin or fiddle (Engels, 2001, p.42).

REFERENCES

Engels, Donald. (2001). Classical cats: the rise and fall of the sacred cat. Routledge.

Reeves, Compton. (1998). Pleasures and pastimes in Medieval England. Oxford University Press.

Van Vechten, Carl. (1921). The tiger in the house. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

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Comments

  1. TheGreatCat1 says:

    Thanks to S Pociecha, a blog follower, for pointing out the fact that the jesters were biting the tails of the cats because the cats are bagpipes in order to make fun of the Scottish. I have updated the post. Thanks again.