Is Saint Gertrude of Nivelles the Patron Saint of Cats?

Mar 13, 2022 | Cats In History

Move over Saint Patrick! Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, the patron saint of gardeners and travelers, is also celebrated on March 17th. Is she also the patron saint of cats? A quick Google search would lead you to believe so, but it is not necessarily a historical fact. Let’s look at her life and work to see how she may have become the patron saint of cats.

A Young Noble Woman

If you Google the patron saint of cats, it is likely that you'll see many references to Saint Gertrude of Nivelles. Is she really the patron saint of cats? Join us as we explore her life and work and find out how she became connected to cats.
Kairom13, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 62 A.D., Saint Gertrude was the younger daughter of Pepin of Landen (Pippin the Edler) and Itta of Metz (source). Politics and royalty ran in her blood. Her father had played a large part in Dagobert I being crowned king of Austrasia, a territory that covers parts of modern-day France, Belgium, and Germany.

At the tender age of 10 years old, Pippin hosted a banquet to which King Dagobert I attended. The king asked Gertrude if she would marry the son of a duke of the Austrasians. She became angry and told him that she would not marry the duke nor any other man – she would have no earthly spouse but Christ the Lord. Her father could have forced her to marry the duke and might have done so if he had lived longer, but he did not force her to marry. While there is some debate, it is believed that Pippin died in 650 A.D.

Despite modern stereotypes, remaining unmarried had nothing to do with the labeling of Saint Gertrude as the patron saint of cats.

From Royalty to the Monastery

If you Google the patron saint of cats, it is likely that you'll see many references to Saint Gertrude of Nivelles. Is she really the patron saint of cats? Join us as we explore her life and work and find out how she became connected to cats.
Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After her father’s death, Gertrude’s mother had to make some decisive moves to keep her daughter and herself out of harm’s way. It was not uncommon in those times for men to kidnap women and force them to marry for the sake of monetary and political gain. She chose to create a double monastery, one for men and one for women, in the city of Nivelles, in modern-day Belgium.

In 652 A.D., Gertrude’s mother passed away leaving Gertrude to run the monastery by herself. Gertrude was known to be an intelligent, scholarly woman, who devoted herself to the sick, elderly, and poor. She was very welcoming to foreigners whether they were secular or religious. Famously, she and her mother helped two Irish monks, Foillan and Ultan, to build a monastery known as Fosses. Her devotion to the Lord was evident for the rest of her life.

Only the Good Die Young

Gertrude became very frail from all her work and fasting. It is said that she prayed intensely and even wore a shirt made of hair. When she knew she was not long for the world, and she appointed her niece, Wulfetrud, to be abbess of her monastery.

Gertrude went to the Fosses monastery and asked a pilgrim there (believed to have been Ultan) when she would die. He told her that she would die on March 17th, the very next day but she could pass with joy because Saint Patrick and God’s angels would be there to receive her. She died at the age of 33 on March 17, 659.

Saint Gertrude of Nivelle’s Miracles

As with any saint, Saint Gertrude was known for the miracles of which she was a part. There are two miracles associated with her:

  • A Vision of Fire
    Saint Gertrude visited the altar of Pope Sixtus II, the martyr. While in prayer at the altar, she saw a vision of a very bright descending sphere of fire. The vision persisted for half an hour.
  •  Saving the Sailors
    Some sailors were sailing through the sea when a storm suddenly hit and a sea monster appeared. The Christian sailors aboard the ship called out to Saint Gertrude for help. After they cried out, the storm was calmed, and the sea monster returned to the depths of the sea. In memory of this, medieval sailors setting out to sea would drink “Sinte Geerts Minne” or “Gertrudeminte” before going on their journey.

It is also worth noting that Saint Gertrude’s attention to gardening led to gardeners calling on her for help.

Becoming the Patron Saint of Cats

If you Google the patron saint of cats, it is likely that you'll see many references to Saint Gertrude of Nivelles. Is she really the patron saint of cats? Join us as we explore her life and work and find out how she became connected to cats.

When does Saint Gertrude of Nivelles become the patron saint of cats? The first mention of this comes in a publication for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1981.That doesn’t mean that there is no historical reason for the belief that she is the patron saint of cats. In the 15th century, when the Black Plague came to northern Europe, people called upon Saint Gertrude as protector against mice and rats. This attribution may have led to her connection with cats.

Some confusion between Saint Gertrude and the goddess Freya may have also led to Saint Gertrude being labeled the patron saint of cats. Freya, the goddess of cats, love, and fertility, was a common figure in pagan worship in northern Europe.

Is Saint Gertrude of Nivelles the patron saint of cats? That is up to modern Catholics to decide.

If you Google the patron saint of cats, it is likely that you'll see many references to Saint Gertrude of Nivelles. Is she really the patron saint of cats? Join us as we explore her life and work and find out how she became connected to cats.

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35 Comments

  1. Catman

    Great article! I never had heard of her, really cool piece of history!

    Reply
    • Robin

      Thank you so much! I agree – she does have an interesting story. It was fun to learn about it and share it with everyone.

      Reply
  2. Britt K

    This was really interesting to read. I’ll be honest, it’s all new to me! I have never even heard of Saint Gertrude of Nivelles before, so reading through the history of all this was beyond fascinating. Who knew that there was a patron saint of cats lol

    Reply
    • Robin

      Thank you so much! Saint Gertrude of Nivelles is a very interesting historical character. It’s not often that you get a woman’s story from back then. As far as I can tell, there is a patron saint for just about everything. Finding a patron saint of cats is interesting because the church had a bit of a problem with cats (they were seen as representatives of pagan worship) in the early days. All of that is the subject of another blog post though. 🙂

      Reply
  3. meowmeowmans

    That was super cool. Thank you for the really interesting facts about St. Gertrude. We knew some of them, but you included some amazing details! Hey, your blog makeover looks so good, by the way! XO

    Reply
    • Robin

      Thank you so much! I’m glad that you stopped by. It feels good to have the blog back up and running. Saint Gertrude of Nivelles is a very interesting person. I’m happy that I got the opportunity to share her story.

      Reply
  4. Charles Huss

    That is very interesting. It is amazing how much information is available for someone born almost 2000 years ago. I have done family research and have noted it is especially difficult to get information on women.

    Reply
    • Robin

      Thank you so much! It really is difficult to find information on historical women (especially that far back). I have wanted to do this post for years and finally just found enough information. Like you, I haven’t been able to find much information other than names of women in my family tree.

      Reply
    • Robin

      You are very welcome! I was excited to find this much information about Gertrude of Nivelles. It’s not easy to dig up information on historical women. I appreciate you stopping by!

      Reply
  5. catscue

    What a life St. Gertrude had, even though it was a short one. Thanks for sharing the info, very interesting woman.

    Reply
    • Robin

      You are very welcome! She really did have quite the life. I can’t imagine standing up to a king and telling him “no” in that day in age. It’s not easy to find information on historical women, so I’m very happy I could share this story.

      Reply
  6. catladymac

    We bet St. Gertrude has her hands full these days.

    Reply
    • Robin

      I’m guessing that she does too! There are a lot of kitties out there to protect. Thank you for stopping by!

      Reply
  7. Kamira G

    Ha! Interesting read. I’ve only heard of Saint Gertrude in movies here and there. I love the new look of your blog too.

    Reply
    • Robin

      Thank you so much! I’m very happy with the way the new logo and website turned out. It isn’t easy to find information on historical women, so I am very happy to be able to share her story.

      Reply
  8. Ellen Pilch

    Nice post. I have heard she is the patron Saint of cats, but I didn’t know her feast day was the same as St. Patrick’s.

    Reply
    • Robin

      Thank you so much! I thought that was an interesting fact too. I suppose it is a pretty great time of year to celebrate cats (of course every part of the year is a great time)!

      Reply
  9. Sandee

    Cats need a patron saint to look over them. Purrfect.

    Have a fabulous day and week, Robin. ♥

    Reply
    • Robin

      I completely agree! Thank you for stopping by. I really appreciate it and I hope that you have a fabulous day as well!

      Reply
    • Cathy Armato

      What a fascinating history! I’ve actually never heard of her in my Catholic teachings. But anyone who is dubbed a St for cats has my vote!

      Reply
  10. Brian Frum

    That was really very interesting, a Saint indeed! Hey, your new design looks fabulous!

    Reply
    • Robin

      Thank you so much! I agree – Saint Gertrude of Nivelles is a very interesting historical woman. There isn’t a lot of information about historical women out there. I’m glad you stopped by to see the new website. It has been a lot of fun creating it.

      Reply
  11. Athena and Marie

    This is a great article!

    Also love your new look 🙂

    Reply
    • Robin

      Thank you so much! I am glad that you were able to stop by and see the new website. I’m happy to be back. 🙂

      Reply
    • Robin

      Thank you so much! It was hard when I found out that my blog was gone before. It feels really good to be back. I’m so glad that you stopped by to see it! 🙂

      Reply
  12. Summer

    Well, SOMEONE has the be the Patron Saint of cats!

    Reply
  13. mommakatandherbearcat

    So glad to see you back! And I love the new design! I definitely want to learn more about St. Gertrude.

    Reply
  14. Michelle & The Paw Pack

    Your blog looks great! Interesting post. I had never heard of St. Gertrude before, and enjoyed learning about her.

    Reply
  15. Beth

    Although I’m not Catholic, I like to think that there is a patron saint of cats. It is fascinating to learn about the monasteries. I didn’t realize that monasteries could be for women, especially back then!

    The new website looks great!

    Reply
  16. Marjorie at Dash Kitten

    We all need a saint of some kind although usually its our Mums that fill the role and we try their patience! I think cats need a patron saint and Saint Gertrude does the job perfectly.

    Reply
  17. Terri

    Very interesting read! I’ve never heard of St. Gertrude. She would certainly have a lot of work to do these days. I can’t imagine what a strong and uniquely brave woman she must’ve been for her time. Although, perhaps, there are more than we even realize that can relate to her strong and brave ethics? Great read, especially now when we all need a bit of hope!

    Reply
  18. Ruth Epstein

    Great post and great new blog, I have read about her and she was amazing. I even celebrated her on my FB page on her day this month like I do every year.

    Reply
  19. jana rade

    Ha, interesting. Now I’m curious whether there is a patron saint for dogs too 🙂

    Reply

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