Kattenkruid via Wikimedia // CC BY 3.0
Kattenkruid via Wikimedia // CC BY 3.0

Saint Gertrude of Nivelles: The Patron Saint of Cats (More or Less)

Kattenkruid via Wikimedia // CC BY 3.0
Kattenkruid via Wikimedia // CC BY 3.0

You might think of March 17 as St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s also the feast day of a lesser-known saint: Gertrude of Nivelles, patron saint of cats. At least that's what the internet says, even if the Roman Catholic Church has never made it official.

Gertrude of Nivelles was born around 626 in present-day Belgium into a well-connected noble family. But she didn’t stick to the script that most noble women were made to follow in her era: When she was 10, Gertrude reportedly refused—loudly and angrily—to be married to the son of a duke. In fact, she insisted that she would never marry at all.

When her father died, Gertrude and her mother, Itta, moved to Nivelles (south of present-day Brussels) to set up a monastery, where she became an abbess. She became known for her devotion to scholarly and charitable works, and for taking care of orphans, widows, and pilgrims. She was also visited by spiritual visions and said to know most of the Bible by heart. But her ascetic lifestyle, which included long periods without food or sleep, took a toll on her health, and she resigned as abbess in 656 at the age of 30. She died three years later, and St. Patrick himself is said to have watched over her on her deathbed.

Because of her reputation for hospitality, Gertrude was originally the patron saint of travelers and the recently dead (who were seen as making their own form of journey) as well as gardeners and the mentally ill. But as the centuries wore on, she also became associated with rodents. The link may have involved early Christian beliefs: Gertrude was known to pray for the souls of those in purgatory, and medieval artists often portrayed those souls as mice. Gertrude’s iconography—the items in a painting or statue that told illiterate people who the saint was—always included mice or rats at her feet, climbing up her robes, or climbing the crozier that symbolized her role as an abbess.

The connection between Gertrude and rodents became solidified as veneration of her spread throughout northern Europe, and little silver or gold statues of mice were left at a shrine to her in Cologne as late as 1822. By then, she had become the saint one asked to intercede in the case of a rodent infestation; it was said that the water from her abbey’s well would chase away rats and mice.

In the past few decades, faithful Catholics (and cat lovers) have made the leap from associating Gertrude with warding off mice to associating her with cats. The idea seems to have started in the 1980s, more than 1300 years after she lived. Some sources say the first publication to link Gertrude and cats was a 1981 catalog, Metropolitan Cats, put out by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Since then, the idea that Gertrude is the patron of cats—and cat owners—has spread. As saint expert Thomas J. Craughwell explains it, “St. Gertrude … is invoked against mice and rats, which has led cat lovers to assume that Gertrude was a cat person, and so the ideal patron of their favorite pet.” There are now many icons and paintings of her with a cat.

Although the Vatican can make a saint’s patronage official, it has never done so with Saint Gertrude and cats. But most patron saints have been assigned their duties by popular tradition rather than by official recognition. So, if you want to get a medal of St. Gertrude to hang around your cat’s neck, go right ahead.

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8 Pro Tips for Taking Incredible Pictures of Your Pets

Thanks to the internet, owning a photogenic pet is now a viable career option. Just ask Theron Humphrey, dog-dad to Maddie the coonhound and the photographer behind the Instagram account This Wild Idea. He gained online fame by traveling across the country and sharing photographs of his dog along the way. But Maddie’s impressive modeling skills aren’t the only key to his success; Humphrey has also mastered some essential photography tricks that even the most casual smartphone photographer can use to make their pet look like a social media star.


Based on her Instagram presence, you’d guess Maddie is either in the middle of a road trip or a scenic hike at any given time. That’s no accident: At a pet photography workshop hosted by Adobe, Humphrey said he often goes out of his way to get that perfect shot. “You need to keep situating yourself in circumstances to continue making great work,” he said, “even if that means burning a tank of gas and going someplace you’ve never been.”


Dog and owner on a couch.

That being said, it’s important to know your pet’s limits. Is your dog afraid of flying? Then leave him with a pet sitter when you vacation abroad. Does your cat hate the water? Resist the temptation to bring her into the kayak with you on your next camping trip, even if it would make for an adorable photo opportunity. “One thing I think is important with animals is to operate within the parameters they exist in,” Humphrey said. “Don’t go too far outside their comfort zone.”


Not every winning pet photo is the result of a hefty travel budget. You can take professional-looking pictures of your pet at home, as long as you know how to work with the space you’re in. Humphrey recommends looking at every element of the scene you’re shooting in and asking what can be changed. Don’t be shy about moving furniture, adjusting the blinds to achieve the perfect lighting, or changing into a weird outfit that will make your pup’s eyes pop.


Two dogs in outfits.

Ella and Coconut Bean.

Trying to capture glamorous photos of a moving, barking target is a hard job. It’s much easier when you have a human companion to assist you. Another set of hands can hold the camera when you want to be in the picture with your pet, or hold a toy or treat to get your dog’s attention. At the very least, they can take your pet away for a 10-minute play session when you need a break.


The advent of digital cameras, including the kind in your smartphone, was a game-changer for pet photographers. Gone are the days when you needed to be picky about your shots to conserve film. Just set your shutter to burst mode and let your camera do the work capturing every subtle blep and mlem your pet makes. Chances are you’ll have plenty of standout shots on your camera roll from which to choose. From there, your hardest job will be “culling” them, as Humphrey says. He recommends uploading them to a photo organizing app like Adobe Lightroom and reviewing your work in two rounds: The first is for flagging any photo that catches your eye, and the second is for narrowing down that pool into an even smaller group of photos you want to publish. Even then, deciding between two shots taken a fraction of a second apart can be tricky. “When photos are too similar, check the focus,” he said. “That’s often the deciding factor.”


When it comes to capturing the perfect pet photo, an expensive camera is often less important than your cat’s favorite feather toy. The most memorable images often include pets that are engaging with the camera. In order to get your pet to look where you want it to, make sure you're holding something your pet will find interesting in your free hand. If your pet perks up at anything that makes noise, find a squeaky toy. If they’re motivated by food, use their favorite treat to get their attention. Don’t forget to reward them with the treat or the toy after they sit for the photo—that way they’ll know to repeat the behavior next time.


Person with hat taking photo of dog and dog food.

According to Humphrey, your pet’s eye should be the focus of most shots you take. In some cases, you may need to do more to make your pet the focal point of the image, even if that means removing your face from the frame altogether. “If there’s a human in the photo, you want to make them anonymous,” Humphrey said. That means incorporating your hands, legs, or torso into a shot without making yourself the star.


This is the mantra Theron Humphrey repeated throughout his workshop. You can scout out the perfect location and find the perfect accessories, but when you’re shooting with animals you have no choice but to leave room for flexibility. “You have to learn to roll with the mistakes,” Humphrey said. What feels like a hyperactive dog ruining your shot in the moment might turn out to be social media gold when it ends up online.

Build Your Own Cat With These LEGO-Like Blocks

It’s one thing to commission a custom portrait of your pet, but it’s quite another to build a life-size sculpture of them yourself with more than a thousand LEGO-like bricks. That’s exactly what you can do with the cat sculptures made by the Hong Kong-based toy-brick-makers at JEKCA (“building blocks for kidults,” as the company describes itself).

The pet sculptures, which we spotted over on Bored Panda, come in the shape of various breeds and colors that allow you to choose one that looks uncannily like your own pet. As long as your cat looks like a typical orange tabby or tuxedo shorthair, Siamese, Persian, or other garden variety cat, at least. They come in different colors and are available in multiple positions, whether it’s sitting, walking, pouncing, or playing.

Made of more than 1200 individual bricks each, the cat sculptures run about a foot tall, and between about half a foot and a foot long, depending on whether they’re sitting, standing on their hind legs, or walking. They come with instructions for assembly and can be taken apart and built again as many times as you want. But you don’t have to worry about them falling apart, according to JEKCA, since the blocks are secured by screws. “These cats are like real sculptures and will not collapse or break apart,” the company writes on its Facebook.

Six different calico cat sculptures in different positions

You could build one that looks exactly like your cat or adopt one of the brick animals as a pet itself. Buy a whole team of them, and it’ll look like your house is overrun with a cat gang—minus the extreme litter box cleaning that comes with being a traditional crazy cat lady.

The cat sculptures cost between $60 and $90, plus shipping, depending on the size of the kit and how many bricks it requires. You can see them all here. If cats aren’t your favorite pet, the company also makes dogs, birds, and other animals as well. Although, sadly, unlike their domestic pets, their dolphins and deer don’t come in life-size versions.

[h/t Bored Panda]


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