The cathedral cat

We spot him first in the monastic cloisters that are attached to the Cathedral, rolling on his back and wantonly flashing his belly at anyone who will look in his direction. I hurry towards him, camera in hand, hoping to capture some cute video action. But he’s in no mood to be filmed and disappears through a doorway into the main body of the Cathedral. Mrs P’s still taking photos of the cloisters, so I wait for her. By the time we’re ready to follow my new feline friend into the Cathedral, he’s nowhere to be seen.

Norwich Cathedral

Work began on the construction of Norwich Cathedral in 1096 and was completed in 1145. It is a magnificent building, regarded – its guidebook informs me – as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe. The monastic cloisters are the second largest in England, exceeded only by those at Salisbury Cathedral. Its cathedral close – that is, the area immediately around a cathedral comprising various properties that belong to it – is England’s largest.

Clerics and other Cathedral officers are housed or work in Norwich Cathedral’s close. And, as we are soon to learn, the close is also home to a cat who is famous the world over and even has his own Twitter feed!

“Budge” the cathedral cat

Leaving the cloisters behind us, our minds are blown away as we enter the main body of the Cathedral. Stunning! Spectacular! Awe inspiring! The superlatives keep on coming, and we join other visitors in cricking our necks to admire the soaring ceiling. And yet, as we look around us, we see other visitors focussed on matters that are more grounded: the cat I spotted earlier in the cloisters is now sitting next to the pulpit, and has gathered a bevy of doting admirers.

Standing close by the cat is a member of Cathedral staff. Or maybe a volunteer, I’m not quite sure, but she clearly has an official role in this magnificent place. And she wears a slightly weary expression. I sense she’d rather be talking to us about the glory of God and the breath-taking building He has inspired. But instead she’s filling us in on the life and times of the Cathedral cat.

His name, we learn, is Budge, and he’s around five years old. He lives in one of the houses on the close, but spends most of his days in the Cathedral where he has become a bit of a celebrity. Budge has been known to gate-crash Cathedral events and make his presence known during morning prayers. He is popular with visitors, and the Dean is reported as saying that he brings comfort to those in torment:

“Sometimes people who come in are distressed, and we often find Budge sitting with them. I think some find him very therapeutic. Budge seems to bring people a lot of pleasure, and he is a very positive presence.”

Very Reverend Jane Hedges, Dean of Norwich Cathedral, quoted in this article on the BBC website, 25/12/2021

But like most cats his favourite hobby is snoozing, and it seems that there is nowhere in the Cathedral – including the altar – where he has not on occasion lain his sleepy head. A cat with a rare sense of style and a large helping of chutzpah, one Christmas he was even found sleeping in baby Jesus’s crib in the Nativity scene!

Having heard and enjoyed Budge’s story we bid him a fond farewell and continue our journey around Norwich Cathedral. Half an hour later we meet up with him again. He’s removed himself from his position by the pulpit, and is now curled up on a plush cushion that someone has thoughtfully placed on top of one of the choir stalls. He’s sleeping peacefully, seemingly unaware of his many admirers taking photos and selfies.

There’s no doubt about it – Budge is a superstar. Enter “Norwich cathedral cat” in the Google search box and the return is a massive 1.3 million hits! Like all superstars he has his own Twitter feed, and currently boasts 4,630 followers. At the top of his feed is this quote, which seems an appropriate tribute to a much-loved cat who spends most of his life in a Cathedral

For I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God

Excerpt from Jubilate Agno, by Christopher Smart

Christmas card on sale from Norwich Cathedral shop, 2022

Budge’s superstar status is confirmed by the fact that the Cathedral shop sells Christmas cards featuring him. The illustration shows him in front of a large Christmas tree, stretched out on a heating vent that is pumping warmth into the Cathedral. This is, reputedly, one of his favourite spots for a quick nap! Although it’s a bit depressing to find Christmas cards on sale nearly four months before the big day, it’s great to see the affection in which Budge is held and to know that he’s doing his bit to raise funds for the maintenance of his magnificent second home.

St Julian, her calling and her cat

Although he’s the undoubted star of the show, Budge isn’t the only cat to be seen at Norwich Cathedral. One of its stained-glass windows is dedicated to St Julian of Norwich, and in the bottom left-hand corner is the image of a cat.

The remarkable woman featured in the window was born in Norwich in 1342. The name with which she was baptised is lost to history. In 1373 she contracted the plague and experienced several mystical visions as she fought her terrible illness. After a miraculous recovery she determined to devote the rest of her life to God, becoming an anchoress (hermit) at the church of St Julian in Norwich and adopting Julian as her name.

Julian, sometimes also known today as Juliana of Norwich, Dame Julian or Mother Julian, spent all her days and nights in a small cell measuring just over 9 square metres (100 square feet). The cell had a window into the church which allowed her to receive holy communion during Mass, and a window to the street to enable her to give guidance and spiritual support to anyone requesting it. There was also a small window through which a maidservant could pass her food and drink.

Although hers was a holy existence it must also have been very lonely, and Julian is believed to have developed a close relationship with the cat that she was allowed to keep in her cell to control rats and mice. It is this relationship that is referenced in the stained glass.

Julian was controversially ahead of her time in describing God as both mother and father, and in calling Jesus our “true Mother” from whom we receive our beginning, our true being, protection and love.

One of her core messages was “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” It’s an idea that we may all wish to cling to in these, the most turbulent of times.

Julian’s writings, the Revelations of Divine Love, are the earliest surviving works in the English language written by a woman. You can learn a little more about her by watching this short video that I tracked down on YouTube.

The video makes no mention of Julian’s relationship with her cat, understandably perhaps as this may be thought to trivialise a significant, holy life. Personally, however, I’m drawn to the idea that such an exceptional, mystical woman could develop a tender, caring relationship with a simple, furry hunter of rats and mice. In some circles Saint Julian is unofficially known as the patron saint of cats. I’m certain Budge would approve!

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21 comments

  1. Thistles and Kiwis · October 5

    What a lovely story! And a wonderful cathedral too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ms. Liz · October 5

    Adorable! I’ve shared a link to your post on twitter, and my tweet links to both the Cathedral Cat (who I’m now following) and to Norwich Cathedral. Thanks for this lovely post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · October 5

      Yes, he is! It’s hard to find anywhere much more remote from Norwich than NZ, so you must be one of Budge’s most long-distance followers. Thank you for sharing on Twitter, which should enable him to gather a few more admirers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ms. Liz · October 5

        I’ve become interested recently! I already, on twitter, follow the bishop’s head gardener, and also the bishop 🙂 So your post was very timely!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · October 5

        🙂😺

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Paddy Tobin · October 5

    Even in God’s house, the cat reigns supreme!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 5

      There’s a line in one of the wonderful Terry Pratchett books which reads “In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” Budge certainly swaggered around the cathedral with an overwhelming sense of entitlement.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Laurie Graves · October 5

    What a wonderful post! I will share it with my cat-loving daughter. I so enjoyed all the details. The saint and the cat is a captivating story, ripe for fiction. Finally, that Budge is some cat, as we would say in Maine. Clearly an extravert who likes being in the center of things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 5

      Some cat indeed. What a character! I hope he makes your daughter smile 😺

      The story of the saint and her beloved cat enables us to glimpse a way of life that I find difficult to comprehend, so remote from our existence today. And yes, there is a work of fiction in it somewhere, short on action to be sure but loaded with emotion and quiet reflection.

      Thank you for your lovely comment Laurie, I really appreciate it.

      Like

  5. June’s Travels · October 5

    Wonderful stories about the cathedral cat, Norwich Cathedral and Julian of Norwich! I also shared the link of your post on my Twitter too, although I am not very active in Twitter. By the way, Budge is a handsome boy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 6

      Thank you for your kind feedback, June. Yes, Budge is very good-looking, and my word, he knows it, just sitting / lying there while all his adoring fans take photos of him 😺

      Liked by 1 person

  6. jmankowsky · October 5

    Wonderful post! And truly, this Yankee is so darn jealous of all those cathedrals and ancient buildings you folks have right at your fingertips! Ah, to see Julian of Norwich’s haunts!
    Cheers,
    Julie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 6

      Thank you for your kind comment, so glad you enjoyed. I think maybe we Brits sometimes take for granted the abundance of magnificent old buildings we have here, so it’s interesting to have a Yankee perspective on our good fortune 🙂.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Carol Ann Siciliano · October 9

    What a great combination of architecture, holiness and whimsey (I put Budge in the latter category, although as a comfort-cat he also has a place on the spiritual side of things). I enjoyed this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 10

      At its deepest I do believe there is a spiritual dimension to the relationship between cats and people. Dogs too, I might add. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. ThoughtsBecomeWords · October 11

    How wonderful! I don’t think the church mice would be in any great danger from Budge 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 11

      Agreed. I suspect strenuous physical activity is never part of Budge’s game-plan! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. tanjabrittonwriter · October 16

    A wonderful post, Mr. P. More than ever, what we need during “these, the most turbulent of times,” are feel-good stories, such as this one about Budge and St. Julian’s cat. Long may they make the news.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 22

      Thank you, Tanja. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I had great fun writing it too, both the learning around St Julian – who was previously unknown to me – and the happy memories of meeting Budge. That fantastic feline even let me scratch his head and twiddle his ears. I felt this was a great honour, but I’m sure he believed it was no more than a cat of his noble disposition deserved!

      Liked by 1 person

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