Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why Jesus loves tabby cats

There is a story about Our Lord's nativity which says that a cat gave birth to a litter of kittens in the same stable where Our Lady was in labor. After the baby was born and wrapped in swaddling clothes, He was still quite cold, it being the dead of night and all. And so the cat jumped into the manger with Him, lay down by Him to keep Him warm, and purred Him to sleep. Our Lady was supposedly so grateful that she petted the little cat's head and left an M on its forehead, M for Mary of course. And that is why tabby cats all have coloring on their heads that forms an "M."

The Italians call this Madonna della Gatta - Our Lady of the Cat. At right is a painting (not of the nativity but of the Holy Family) with that title by Baroccio, below it one by Giulio Romano, ca. 1520. In the first a cat is entertaining Our Lord and St. John Baptist, in the latter you can spot a feline presence in the bottom right-hand corner.

My own kitty loves to climb on humans when they are asleep, so I can imagine her wanting to lie down with the baby Jesus! Who knows if there were cats in the Holy Land way back then. I am sure some scientific historian would be happy to disabuse me. But I think it's a lovely story worth retelling for the sake of its loveliness :)

1 comment:

  1. Cats have a long history in Egypt and we know from the Bible that people travelled back and forth between there and the Holy Land (see Matthew 2), so it seems likely that some cats found their way to Judea, and even Bethlehem, in time for the Nativity.

    Happy 7th day of Christmas! Happy New Year!