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.

St Jerome in his Study, 1475 Antonello da Messina National Gallery London, cats and saints

St Jerome in his Study,
Antonello da Messina
National Gallery London


Finally, the patron saint of lawyers, St. Ives (1253-1303), has a cat as his emblem, a symbol of constant vigilance (Spence, 1917)



A supporter of asceticism, St. Jerome did not think highly of women (Grössinger, 1997, p.1).




Grössinger, Christa. (1997). Picturing women in late Medieval and Renaissance Art. Manchester University Press.

Spence, Lewis. (1917). Legendes and romances of Brittany. New York: Fredrick A. Stokes Co. Publishers.



Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats


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