St Mary Redcliffe is a beautiful church in the city centre of Bristol,
in south-western England, and is one of the largest parish churches in
the country. There isn't a graveyard as such but outside the church — on
the grass area outside the main door there is one small but very unusual
memorial tablet: to a cat.
Not named on the stone, Tom, a tabby kitten, was found outside the priests'
entrance to the building, sometime in 1912. Maybe he liked the sound of
the organ music that was being played at the time! Anyway, he decided it
was a good place to stay and spent the next 15 years as 'church cat', becoming
quite a local celebrity. For most of his life he was looked after by the
verger, Eli Richards.
He would process with the choir on occasion, and also liked to sit by the
organist's side during rehearsals and for part of the services. The cat
was recalled by blind organist Alfred Hollins, who mentioned in his 1936
reminiscences that Tom would sit beside him on the organ stool. He also
often liked to sit on someone's lap in the congregation! — but he
wasn't allowed in the chancel and would be removed if he went there. He
was said to have attended many more church services than any one of the
Tom had an enviable reputation as a catcher of rats and mice, and also
kept in check the large numbers of pigeons that would frequent the churchyard.
He seems to have had a penchant for hiding the remains of his prey — or
perhaps he had a favourite spot where he liked to take his victims to devour
them. In any case, when the altar cross was removed in the early 1920s,
a large zinc bathtub was filled three times with bones and feathers he
had left behind!
This staunch church cat died in 1927, and in recognition of his many years
of devoted service he was given a grand funeral; the small coffin was borne
to its resting place by the verger, accompanied by the vicar and church
wardens, while suitable music was played on the organ — which surely
Tom would have appreciated.
A sonnet to his memory was written
by one Gilbert Croker:
Beneath a stone in Redcliffe's churchyard lies
What was a strange thing in God's house: a cat,
Which was, before its very sad demise,
Often upon the organ-stool just sat
Listening to the music played soft and sweet,
Or, in the organist's lap so still and warm,
It would not 'turn a whisker' at the treat
Of the noise changing to a pedalled storm!
Its purpose in life was to keep from view
Those furry creatures, lest they think a pew -
Especially at Harvest time of year -
To be a place that would, to them, be dear.
Now the number of its years can be found
To all who look within this holy ground.
Story "borrowed" with permission from Patrick Roberts' Purr-n-fur.org.uk.
I encourage you to go spend some time at this splendid web site. =mike=
The Infinite Cat Project
Presented by Mike Stanfill, Private Hand