black cats, cats, crazy cat lady, Patron Saint of Cats, St Gertrude

St Gertrude – Patron Saint of Cats

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Stained glass window in the Basilica of Our Lady in Tongeren, Belgium

Every now and then, and on International Cat Day, the Internet will mention that St Gertrude of Nivelles is the Patron Saint of Cats.  The image above shows St Gertrude with mice at her feet.  Now, while St Gertrude was never formally canonised by the Roman Catholic Church, she was considered extremely devout and worthy of veneration and is considered the Patron Saint of Travellers, Cats, the recently deceased, gardeners, the mentally ill (#crazycatlady) and those who were frightened of rats and mice.

St Gertrude was a 7th Century Abbess who, along with her mother Itta, founded the Abbey of Nivelles which is located in present day Belgium.

Gertrude’s father, Pippin the Elder, tried to force then 10 year old Gertrude to marry a lesser royal to further his own political and economic ambitions.  Very sensibly, Gertrude refused.  Her Mother, Itta, to prevent the vile father from taking Gertrude away from the family home by force, arranged to have Gertrude’s hair shaved into a tonsure which essentially forced Gertrude to get herself to a nunnery.

Shortly after this, the local Bishop Amand visited their home and convinced the mother Itta to start a monastery along with Gertrude.  Gertrude’s Mum, Itta, then founded Nivelles which was a double monastery for men and women, cloistered obviously.  Because of their decision to enter religious life, both Itta and Gertrudge were shunned by the local nobility.

Gertrude spent her young and short life running the monastery, praying endlessly, taking Communion, being chaste, wearing hairshirts and welcoming travellers and cats.  She devoted herself to the sick, elderly and poor and she also built churches, took care of orphans, widows, captives and pilgrims.  She received numerous travelling religious envoys and became known as a lesser Saint and Patron Saint of travellers.

She also took in a lot of cats to reduce the rodent population most likely to minimise the spread of disease particularly those nasty, virulent, Ebola-like Black Plagues which were so popular at that time. There was local folklore suggesting that St Gertrude had some sort of magical power over rats and could repel them with her cooking being the culinary equivalent of Big Pharma’s rat poison.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are now websites dedicated to St Gertrude and her love of cats.

Her Feast Day is St Patrick’s Day – March 17.  She died young, aged 33 after a life of hardship, fasting, austerity and prayer.

She is depicted in art as an Abbess with mice, rats or cats who are seen running up her pastoral staff or cloak. Her prayers and devotion towards the Souls in Purgatory has been represented artistically or symbolically by the placement of hopeful little mice poised at her feet.

Because of her willingness to take in travellers, sailors would pray to her to be delivered to their destinations safely.  And they often were.  The power of prayer – “Praise the Lord”.

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Photo by Mircea Iancu on Pexels.com

The 1981 Catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the first English language publication to depict St Gertrude as the Patron Saint of Cats.

I can only say that I am very glad that cats have their very own Patron Saint – Gertrude of Nivelles to watch over them, and us.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
cat furniture, cats, crazy cat lady, indoor cats, keeping pets safe

Are you a Crazy Cat Lady?

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Photo by Japheth Mast on Pexels.com

 

The Crazy Cat Lady is a cultural stereotype who is usually a middle-aged or elderly “spinster” who owns numerous pet cats and who features prominently in popular culture such as The Simpsons, The Office and across a diversity of film and television genres.  The Crazy Cat Lady has been depicted variously as well-meaning, ditsy, lovable, lonely, desperate or just plain weird, cranky or repulsive.

Some examples in popular culture…

  • In 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, the main character violently murders a crazy cat lady
  • Michelle Pfeiffer In Batman Returns transforms from a crazy cat lady into Catwoman.
  • Mrs Scratchen-Post in The Lego Movie is a cat lady mini-figure.
  • More generally, Ace Ventura – Pet Detective.
  • Breakfast at Tiffanys –Audrey Hepburn
  • Angela Martin from The Office – is a cat lady.
  • Grandma Puggy – widowed grandmother with lots of cats – Saturday Night Live.
  • The Crazy Cat Lady on The Simpsons.
  • The Suite Life on Deck – Emma has 30 cats in her cabin.
  • Hattie McDoogal on Futurama.

I must confess that I am actually a crazy cat lady myself.  Even though I contradict the stereotype as I am married (twice even) and I do have children.  But I have 9 cats living in my house.  Okay, I am fostering 4 kittens and we ended up adopting the Mother Cat as she was completely neglected and would have been returned to the streets after being spayed.  Our cat population here will reduce to 5 in a few weeks. It is still too many.  And we also have a dachshund while living in a two-bedroom Mennonite house in Placencia, Belize.  We mitigate the chaos as we work from home.  I let the cats out during the day and they come in during the evening.  We live in a relaxed fishing village by the sea.  And I am fastidiously tidy – so we are not living with an awful cat wee smell here.  That said, it is a lot of work keeping our home hygienic and clean with this many animals.  And costly to boot in terms of cat litter and food.

So where do we actually cross the line and evolve from quirkily having a few too many cats to going full-blown cat hoarding with hundreds of cats – call the authorities and nuke the site from orbit.

Link between Mental Illness and Cat Hoarding

There has been scientific research conducted linking the parasite Toxoplasma gondii carried by cats and some psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia.  So not surprisingly, cat hoarding has been identified as a component of OCD.  Some articles I have read suggest that cat hoarders become addicted to the smell of cat urine in their homes because of the action of the parasite on certain parts of the brain.  This is the same parasite which pregnant women are told to avoid contact with during pregnancy as it can cause serious birth defects.  (As an aside, while I was pregnant with both my children I had my first husband change the litter trays for our two cats).

This study on the links between the parasite and human behaviour is one of the more interesting.  The science behind this is quite complex and appears to have evolutionary aspects (particularly in relation to the effect of the parasite on cat’s natural prey – rats mentioned in the link).

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I personally believe that people who become cat hoarders may have suffered great personal trauma in their lives at some point.  I think there is a link between childhood neglect and seeking companionship in animals because humans have caused profound disappointment.  However, when this is manifested in extremely dysfunctional animal hoarding it becomes a problem for the wider community and more specifically the animals being compulsively collected, many of whom die in appalling conditions.  The RSPCA and local councils are often required to collect the sick and dying animals and burn the house down, pretty much.  Many animals found neglected, starving and living in their own filth, end up being euthanised by the authorities who liberate them.  So the animal hoarder who thinks they are rescuing animals is actually causing more harm than good.

Just to clarify, cat or animal hoarders in general can be both male and female.  It is not a gender-specific behaviour.

Returning to the more normal end of the spectrum and on a more light hearted note, I identify some famous cat people in history, politics and popular culture who had great fondness for their feline companions:

  • Florence Nightingale had many cats and named them after famous public figures like Disraeli, Gladstone and Bismarck.
  • Winnipeg’s notorious Cat Lady – Bertha Rand – fought with neighbours and City Hall for years to save her dozens of cats.

Celebrity Cat Lovers

  • Ann-Margaret
  • Janet Leigh-
  • Warren Beatty
  • Halle Berry
  • Katie Couric
  • Jay Leno
  • Van Heflin
  • Steve Martin
  • James Dean
  • Cameron Diaz
  • Gary Oldman
  • Patrick Stewart
  • Nostradamus
  • Charles Lindbergh

Literary Cats

  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Lord Byron
  • Charles Dickens
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • H G Wells
  • Sir Walter Scott
  • Alexander Dumas
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Tennessee Williams
  • Ernest Hemingway (see my other article)
  • Andy Warhol
  • Woody Allen
  • Freddie Mercury (numerous cats)

World Leaders

  • George W Bush
  • Bill Clinton (Socks)
  • Queen Victoria
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Calvin Coolidge
  • Winston Churchill

I am currently fostering four kittens and a now desexed Mother Cat – so I essentially have this Starter Kit.

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Three of these kittens are going to new homes in a few weeks after they are desexed.  Here they are seen playing with the sample of our pink felt cat cave which is looking a bit worse for wear and needs a clean.

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There are so many stray animals around where we live here in Placencia, Belize and it is really important to ensure that the kitten population is kept to a minimum, as cute as they are.  The local Humane Society here does an amazing job in catching strays and spaying/neutering and rehoming where possible.

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Did I mention that we are also feeding two stray dogs and I have managed to remove their fleas (thanks to the local Humane Society).  So those dogs whom I have named Castor and Pollux – they don’t belong to us – they belong to themselves – but they stand guard on our front porch every morning and evening.  Here we are walking them along the beach with our dachshund Maxie.

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