Cat Fights a Mouse for a Communion Wafer
Book of Kells
800 AD

Cats in Lindisfarne Gospel and Book of Kells


Even though, on the one hand, Christianity sought the total destruction of the old ways and temples during the Dark Ages, on the other, in their place, it began to erect a handful of churches and monasteries that blossomed into isolated centers of art, writing and education.  Art especially benefitted from Christianity, and it was in these first monasteries that monks forever immortalized the cat in illustrations adorning their gospels and psalters.  The cat made its first appearance in the margins of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells in the 8th and 9th centuries.  The Irish illuminated manuscript of the Lindisfarne Gospels, crafted at the monastery of Lindisfarne in Northumbria, is a mixture of Saxon, Celtic, Roman and Coptic traditions.  The gospels, created as a tribute to St. Cuthbert in about 710AD, are intricately decorated pages that reveal the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John interspersed with stylized animals, in particular cats.  In one lovely illustration, the long almost snake like body of a cat bordering a page from the gospel of Luke has just eaten some Cormorants, which are visible within his stomach; seemingly unsatisfied, he greedily eyes more in the bottom border of the manuscript page. 



In addition to the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Book of Kells (800AD), offers an exquisite example of insular art based on Celtic Christianity from the post Roman era on the British Isles.  Monks began its creation on the Island of Iona between Scotland and Ireland, but because of Viking raids, fled to Kells forty miles from Dublin where it was unfortunately never completed.  Like the Lindisfarne Gospels, the illuminated pages of the Book of Kells contain the first 4 gospels of the New Testament.  With all but 2 of its 680 pages illustrated, vibrantly colored cats and other zoomorphic designs are woven carefully within and around the intricate manuscript. 



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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