International Cat Day

close up of sculpture showing cat playing in fabric

On International Cat Day (8 August) we celebrate our paws-itively purrfect pals!

In today’s blog Karina Christie, Museum Assistant shares a brief history of our feline friends inspired by the mysterious pawprints found at Provost Skene’s House.

Every time I’m at Provost Skene’s House and I’m opening the blinds, my heart is filled with joy when I see these wee pawprints. If you look closely on the windowsill, you will spot these 6 cheeky little pawprints which might have been there since 1545! My mind can’t help but fill with wonder of how these pawprints came into existence! Did they belong to the family pet or was it the neighbourhood stray, observing the work of the builders as they created the house? I’ve always had a special interest in the history of pets and when I first came across these paw prints I knew I had to write something!

stone windowsill with paw prints indented into it

Windowsill in Hall of Heroes, Provost Skene's House. Can you make out the pawprints?

It’s generally believed that the first cat was domesticated in ancient Egypt however there is evidence to suggest that maybe their history goes all the way back to 9500BC! A grave site found on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus revealed both a human and a cat buried together. It’s believed that cats started to appear on the island due to humans taking them in from the mainland which would mean they must have been pretty chill with humans to allow this to happen.

We can’t speak about cats without mentioning the Egyptians, cats were so important to the ancient Egyptians that they were treated like demi-deities. Anyone who dared hurt one would receive harsh punishment. Bastet was a goddess within Egyptian mythology with the head of a cat and the body of a human. She provided protection, pleasure and good health to all those who worshipped her.

oil painting by Alexander Adriaenssen, painted 1650-1661 depicting a brown cat eating a fish off a brown table

Still Life with Fish, 1650 - 1661, Alexander Adriaenssen. Here the fish may represent Christ and the cat evil.

Cats haven’t always had the best time however, especially in the Middle Ages when the church in Europe began demonising black cats claiming they were associated with the devil. The change in attitude can be seen in medieval art with cats being painted in a negative light for example a cat playing with a mouse resembling the devil playing with humans. Devastatingly, right up until the 19th century black cats were still being killed for these accusations and even to this day there are far less dark cats in Western Europe because of false claims made in the 13th century!

I’m beyond grateful that in this century we treat all animals with the kindness they deserve, even dedicating specific dates to celebrate them like today with International Cat Day! Next time you pop in by Provost Skene’s House, make sure to look out for these adorable wee paw prints!

Karina with pink hair, holding her fluffy cat called Ghost

Karina and her pet cat, Ghost! Do you have a pet cat?

Admission to Provost Skene's House is free - perfect for a family visit, with hands-on interactive displays and fascinating facts to discover about pioneering Aberdonians! Who will you be inspired by?


Top image: Playmates (details), 1897, Henry Hugh Armstead. See it in Aberdeen Art Gallery, Sculpture Court.