Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 5 January 2023

Medieval moggies - and the Papacy?

It seems not too inappropriate on the day we say farewell to Pope Benedict XVI to allude to his great affection for cats. This was commemorated by the National Catholic Register in an article which includes the late Pushkin of the Birmingham Oratory and which can be seen at Benedict XVI: A Look Back at the Cat-Loving Pope’s Favorite Feline Friends

Recently there was an article on the website The Conversation about cats as pets and companions in the medieval period. It can be seen at Cats in the middle ages: what medieval manuscripts teach us about our ancestors' pets

I had the impression that other than as mousers - including, of course, the famous Welsh feline guardian of the native Prince’s  grain store - cats were rather despised in the medieval centuries or seen as potentially malign. Reading the article showed me that I was wrong in that, and indeed that pet cats could be seen as signifying domesticity.

Going back to where I started I suppose one can try to imagine various medieval and Renaissance Popes accompanied by cats - maybe Celestine V with one as a companion in his hermitage, the Avignon popes and some Renaissance popes with pampered pets, but perhaps more so a Blofeld like white cat to accompany the real toughies - Gregory VII, Innocent IV, Bonifave VIII, Alexander VI, Julius II, Paul IV…. Innocent III a discreet feline companion, a rescue stray for Urban VI ….a street cat to accompany the besieged Clement VII, something exotic like a Siamese for Julius III, an English tabby for Adrian IV ….


Anonymous said...

Exeter cathedral has a door dating from the 1200s with at its base a miniature hole for the cathedral cat(s) to use, and the hole was mentioned in 1305. The following article includes a charming picture of the current cathedral cat, Stapledon, peering out of the hole:


There is another cat hole at the base of the cathedral's medievil clock, and that is believed to be the origin of the nursery rhyme "Hickory dickory dock"!

John R Ramsden

JonathanCR said...

Like pretty much all purported origins of nursery rhymes, though, that's just speculation. The first appearance of the rhyme in literature is from the eighteenth century, and there's no evidence to indicate where, when, or how it originated.

I was once told by a guide in Exeter cathedral that the clock represented what she claimed to be the common medieval belief that the world was flat - despite the fact that the clock clearly depicts the world as spherical. So I wouldn't place too much faith in what they say about such things!