St. Gertrude of Nivelles, patron saint of cats!

Ahhhh, those Roman Catholics. They have a Saint for everything!


St. Gertrude’s feast day was the 17th of March, but I had already booked that week for two special features. And honestly, what better day to celebrate her than “Good Friday” – a day which, I am given to understand, is regarded as rather a big to-do for adherents of her particular religious persuasion.


Evidently this paragon of human femininity was a Belgian abbess in the early-to-mid 600s C.E./A.D. She and her mother founded a particular monastery, but little is known about her before her first flowering of womanhood. It is enough to know that even in those hoary days of yore she was celebrated as a woman of exceptional intelligence, compassion, and wisdom, with a keen memory and a pious dedication to charity which spanned nations. She was never officially canonized (that is, proclaimed a Saint by the Church), but a number of miracles have been attributed to her, and she was given an official feast-day by a late-17th-century pope, which made her status as a Roman Catholic saint unofficially official.

Interesting note: were you aware that the stereotype of the “crazy cat lady” began as a result of the Catholic Church’s ruling that anchoresses (consecrated female hermits) might keep no pets but cats? Rather than stigmatizing or persecuting feline-kind, the Catholic higher-ups believed that felines were the creatures best suited to guide and comfort those holiest and most pious of women.[1] A lone woman with a house full of cats, far from being regarded as a witch or a lunatic, was assumed to be a woman of extraordinary character who had wholly given her life over to prayer, contemplation and asceticism. Chew on that, you judgmental modern philistines!


However, Gertrude was a nun, not an anchoress – she had devoted her life to communal living with a religious focus. Whence then her association with felinity? Well, it turns out that St. Gertrude and the nuns who joined her order were owned by many a cat, both for companionship and to keep the vermin at bay.

Indeed, not only is dear Gertrude the patron saint of my own species, she is also the patroness of gardeners and travelers and wards off both madness and rodents. Mysterious? Solitary? Charitable? Psychologically-comforting? A bane to vermin? Why, she’s practically a feline herself!


The symbols representing St. Gertrude of Nivelles in Catholic iconography include both cats and mice – a sure sign of her boundless charity, as even artistic depictions of felines are provided with a tasty snack when in her presence.[2]







[1] I don’t doubt that fears concerning human/animal sexual congress fit in to that ruling as well. Sensual though we might be, cat tongues are notoriously raspy, our claws are deucedly sharp, and we males have spined penises. Hardly the ideal sexual partners for a desperately lonely human!

[2] My human did a bit of digging and discovered that the mice are usually interpreted as symbolic representations of hopeful souls seeking release from Purgatory. I prefer my explanation, frankly.


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