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.
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.
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.
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.
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.