The English cathedral with the 400-year-old cat flap

The English cathedral with the 400-year-old cat flap 1
The 400-year-old doorhole in Exeter Cathedral is as good as new for this little cat! (photo by Diane Walker, courtesy of Exeter Cathedral)

There are a few rumors circulating about the invention of the convenient cat flap through which our beloved friends come and go as they please, but how far back does it really go? Apparently, for centuries, Exeter Cathedral in the county of Devon, England, has attracted attention thanks to a 16th-century circular doorway for the resident pest cat.

Historian and author Diane Walker said Hyperallergic that cathedral records indicated that the door in question was installed in 1376, when the space behind it was renovated and fitted out for a large astronomical clock. The clock’s mechanics were lubricated with animal fat, which attracted mice down the line, and in 1598, records show, William Cotton, then Bishop of Exeter, had paid carpenters to cut a hole in the door so her mouse cat can take care of the problem. .

“The idea that the hole was dug to allow the bishop’s cat to catch mice in the space where the clock mechanism was located leads to a rethinking of the nursery rhyme ‘Hickory, Dickory, Dock, the mouse ran up to the clock,’” Walker said Hyperallergic.

“The story is normally illustrated with the image of a mouse running outside a long-case clock,” Walker continued. “But it makes much more sense that the idea of ​​a mouse winding a clock would be associated with an ancient clock mechanism, such as that at Exeter Cathedral, where the original mechanisms included lines of weights to facilitate climbing for a mouse attracted by lubricating water. tallow.”

The best part is that the cathedral had cats in its service throughout the 14th and 15th centuries – 13p a quarter, according to written records. It’s unclear exactly how cats received their wages, but the idea of ​​a feline friend sent with a bag of silver coins for their services is a cherished vision for the mind. It’s been a while since the cats have been part of the cathedral, but from time to time, one Meowdel visits the door for a photoshoot for updated guide programming.

Cuteness aside, even Walker admits that even though it’s a very old cat flap, it’s unlikely it was the first. The 14th-century Church of San Giorgio in Montemerano, Italy, has its own cat hole carved into a painted doorway that is now preserved and on display. A 15th-century panel painting of the Virgin Mary, by an anonymous local painter nicknamed “Master of Montemerano,” is believed to have been adapted into a doorway in the church. A circular hole was cut into the lower right side of the painted pest control cat panel to prevent mice from entering the sacristy, and thus, the painting was nicknamed “Madonna of the Gattaiola» (around 1458), or “The Virgin with the Cat Flap”.

The English cathedral with the 400-year-old cat flap 3
The “Madonna della Gattaiola” of the Master of Merano (c. 1458), preserved and exhibited at the Church of San Giorgio in Montemerano, Italy (photo by Matteo Vinattieri via Wikimedia Commons)

But humans relied on cats to fight parasites well before the 15th century. The ancient Egyptians were known for pedestalizing cats and honoring deities with feline characteristics. You would think that cat doors would have been integrated into ancient Egyptian architecture and design given the cultural respect for felines, but two Egyptologists have confirmed with Hyperallergic that they discovered no such invention in their research. Salima Ikram, a professor, archaeologist and archaeozoology expert based in Cairo, said that although cats were “definitely used to control parasites”, the geography and climate of northeast Africa meant that houses and buildings were more open and doors were not used often. And Willeke Wendrich, professor and architectural Egyptologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Hyperallergic that field researchers “have virtually no surviving gates from antiquity.”

Although Wendrich didn’t come across cat flaps in his research, that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. “Cats were very popular in ancient Egypt and it seems to me that the concept of a cat flap is not that difficult to imagine,” she said.

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