March 17th is Saint Gertrude of Nivelles Day. It’s more commonly known as St Patrick’s Day, of course. If you’re not sure who Saint Gertrude is, she is the patron saint of cats. A local vet goes over some basics of her story below.
Gertrude of Nivelles was born in 628 in what is now known as Belgium. Her family was quite wealthy. When she was ten years old, her father invited the king to a banquet. At this feast, the king asked Gertrude if she wanted to marry an archduke. In what was at the time an extremely brave and unusual reply, the little girl flat-out declined. Eventually, she and her mother went on to found the Abbey of Nivelles.
The records don’t mention cats, but it seems likely that there were cats at the feast.
There are two miracles attributed to Gertrude. Did she actually manage to get cats to listen to her? No. Did kitties travel for miles to sleep in her lap? No. Did she save a cute cat from certain death, only to find that the cat was some form of supreme being? No. At least, not unless one considers cats to be supreme beings, which is a whole other topic. Is the Abbey of Nivelles overflowing with cats? It doesn’t seem to be, though one would hope that at least a few kitties are allowed to live there.
Actually, the first miracle was a vision of a flaming sphere. In the second, a sailor who was battling a fierce storm and a sea monster called out to Gertrude, who then had a vision of it. After her name was invoked, both the storm and the monster went away and, presumably, the sailor’s day improved drastically. This tale became so well-known that it led to the creation of the Gertrudenminte or Sinte Geerts Minne, a drink travelers imbibed before setting off. This also led to Gertrude being named the patron saint of travelers.
But What About Fluffy?
You may be wondering … where are the cats in this story? That’s where things get a bit fuzzy. There actually is no mention of Fluffy in the historical records. References to Gertrude being a patron of cats seems to have started in the 1980’s. There are a few anecdotal references of Gertude being associated with cats and mouse hunters in older texts. However, there’s also the possibility that she somehow got mixed up with Frigg, a Nordic goddess who was said to ride a great cat. In any case, the cat seems to have somebody’s tongue on this one.
Do you have questions about your cat’s health or care? Contact us, your local veterinary clinic, today!