Animal Stories

No Pussy in Russia

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Today it’s hard to believe, but until the X century, there were almost no domestic cats in Russia. In fact, the sight of the domestic cat was likely as rare as hen’s teeth.  

Historians suggest that these first furry creatures that were worshipped in Ancient Egypt and still are today were brought to Russia by sailors. The common moggy cat was so rare at the time that a huge fine was charged if one should be stolen from its proud owner if one can establish ownership of a cat. In fact, the penalty for stealing a neighbour’s cow, and in effect their source of income, was the lesser. For the accidental or intentional murder of someone else’s cat besides paying a fine, the criminal was obliged to acquire another cat for the victim.

According to scientists, in the Middle Ages cats found themselves in the territory of Old Ladoga and in the Middle Volga region. Cats were valued in Russia even before Christianity was generally accepted. So, one of the sacred animals accompanying the god Veles was a cat.

The cat was considered the keeper of the home hearth and the guide to the otherworld. With the advent of Christianity in Russia, the pagan god Veles was banned. The deity was replaced by the patron saint of St. Vlasius, which is why Vaska’s name (or Vasiliy’s name) became the most common cat nickname in Russia.

The Catholic Church considered cats to be the disappearance of hell and without conscience, they burned poor animals on bonfires. But Orthodox priests immediately became imbued with love for cats. Fluffy animals guarded the food in monasteries, and therefore deserved special treatment and could go to church without obstruction. In Vladimir, Suzdal and many other Russian cities, you can see small holes designed specifically for cats in front of temples.

At first, cats did not live in the homes of ordinary mortals at all, as these exotic animals were simply not afforded to them, cats lived only in the houses of rich people.

In patriarchal Moscow, the cat was an attribute of well-being and wealth in the family. There were cats to be seen under the emperor palaces, which, like ordinary living spaces of the time, suffered from rodent infestation.

Tsar’s cat.
It is known that Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, the father of Peter I, had a very serious cat. We know about this, because when a European artist was passing through Moscow, the tsar ordered him to draw his favorite.
An engraving from a drawing entitled “The Genuine Portrait of the Cat of the Grand Duke of Muscovy” has spread all over the world.

Peter I (Peter the Great) had a favourite cat, whom he dubbed Basil. In 1724, the king took it from one Dutch merchant. Peter immediately assessed the benefits of these animals, and immediately issued a decree: ‘To have cats under barns to protect such mice and rats of intimidation.’

In 1745, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna ordered the Kazan governor to bring her 30 cats of the best breed and a person who would care for them. It was believed that Kazan animals were the best rat-catchers. Catherine II laid an even more important mission on cats: they became guardians of art galleries, because not only barns suffered from rodents but also works of art.

Cats in the Hermitage settled down and became famous no less than masterpieces of painting or sculpture. Only by the end of the XVIII century cats appeared in peasant huts. (Publication from Marina Ustinova).

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