The town of La Romieu is far back along the pilgrim trail, in the Armagnac region of France. It has a scrumptious cloister, possibly fourteenth century…
The cats? Oh, so you’ve heard about them.
The origin? Of all those sculpted cats throughout the town? Actually, I don’t know if they’re sculpted or moulded, but they’re very well made, each with its different posture and expression. They can be anywhere, even on window ledges and atop walls.
You know how I am with my pilgrimage stories. I never know how to finish them. The endings always seem a let-down – or too obvious.
Well, all right. This is the story, such as it is, of the famous cats of La Romieu.
It all goes back to little Angélique. They say she was the orphaned child of a woodchopper…but they always say that. It’s just to get us in the mood.
Anyway, little Angélique loved cats, was followed by cats all day, slept with cats – you know the type.
In the early 1340’s there were some terrible famine years due to cold winters and perpetually wet springs. So people blamed cats, or ate cats, or refused to feed cats. It was bad for cats, who were soon wiped out.
But little Angelique conspired with her parents – so she wasn’t an orphan? – to secretly keep a male and female cat in the attic. She embarked on a breeding program. The cats, like a certain notorious ruler of the same region, weren’t too fussed about inbreeding. (Jean V of Armagnac married his sister, quite formally, and they had a few kids.)
It all went well, and over several years Angelique was able to raise many kittens. Meanwhile, the family lived on wild fungus, tree bark, fern shoots – the usual famine diet.
Good harvests finally came again, granaries were full. But, with no cats, rats were everywhere, creating a new crisis…
Oh well, surely you can guess the rest of the story. A win for Angélique and her breeding program. I’m sure there’s a lesson about balance in nature or tolerance or some such thing.
There’s also a legend that, as she grew older, Angélique actually started to look like a cat. There exists a sculpture of a catty Angélique in the town. Brrr.
You can tell I’m a dog person.