When Pope Gregory IX Declared a War on Cats

Pope Gregory IX cats
Pope Gregory IX.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are two kinds of people globally: People who love cats and people who hate cats. Now some people fall in between, but for most people, it is one or the other. 

People in history have taken this relationship between man and feline a little too far. Some people even went as far as to declare war on our furry little friends. Who was this? 

Pope Gregory IX. Yes, that is right; the Pope declared war on the cat population. 

Like many people, you may be wondering, “why on earth would you declare war on a cat?” and we would probably agree with you. But the reason makes sense if you dig a little further. 

So, keep on reading to see the logic behind this seemingly ludicrous war and find out more of the history of why cats were so mistrusted at the time. 

The History

Before we dive into the war, it’s essential to understand where it came from. 

Conrad of Marburg was the papal inquisitor at the time of Pope Gregory IX, and he possessed strong beliefs about cats and used the cats to back his belief that these cats were Satan in a fur coat. This evidence came in the form of confessions. 

The people who confessed to Conran told a strange story. 

A confession may have gone something like this:

“I was on my way home yesterday evening, tired after a long day, and I heard a croak. A massive toad, as large as a dog, was standing ten feet away. It hopped nearer and approached me.”

Go on“, Conran encouraged,

It was unnatural. I’ve never seen a toad this large. When it reached me, a pale man appeared! I do not know where that man came from or who he was. He wanted me to kiss him. Yes, kiss him. From that moment on, I forgot all about God and the Church.”

“What happened after you met this so-called man” Conran pressed.

“Well, we would all go to this Black mass. Where a statue of a large cat came alive, as alive as you or I., we’d all kiss the cat and then, in the darkness, had…fun. When it was all over, candles were lit, and a man emerged. His upper body was blinding like the sun. An unnatural light you see. His lower body was completely covered in cat’s fur. A blessing was read, and the meeting then was over….”

These types of confessions, taken under torture, were given to the Pope as evidence showing that cats were in league with the devil, so, therefore, should be punished. 

This then led to the Pope declaring war on the cats of Europe and starting a tradition that still lives on until this day. 

Pope Gregory’s War on Cats. 

Between 1227 and 1241, the catholic world was run by Pope Gregory IX this being the 13th Century, and people had a few beliefs about the world, which we would consider…crazy. Pope Gregory believed that cats carried Satan’s spirit around and, therefore, were not to be trusted. This led to the superstition that Black cats are unlucky. 

In fact, during the years 1233 – 1234, there was mass extermination of cats by those loyal to the Church and the Pope. Some historians believe that people killed so many cats to cause a wave of the Plague; this then led to believe that Satan caused the Plague due to being furious that so many of his cats were killed. 

Looking back at history, we can understand that the rats flourished because so many cats were killed. But, little did they know it; it was the fleas on the rats which carried the Plague. 

But the Pope had started something that took a long time to die down fully. His war on cats had a massive effect on people and kitties alike. 

The fact that the Pope declared war on the cats led to effects that stretched far and wide, far beyond the little felines. 

Pope Gregory IX
Pope Gregory IX.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Effects of the War  

The Pope’s war on cats didn’t just affect cats. It had a significant effect on people as well. The war seemed to spark a mass witch hunt. Thousands of people, mainly women, were being accused and harassed by neighbors and friends. 

A new job had opened up. Witch Hunter. Religious people who wanted to prove their loyalty to the Church hunted and accused women of witchcraft. This hunt resulted in unlucky women being tortured and killed.

Cats were still not safe, though. This time cats were being killed as a result of the Witch-Hunting frenzy. During the late 1400s, cats were being killed because they were believed to be witches familiars. 

It wasn’t until the Pope finally excommunicated cats that the killings stopped. Though the superstitions still live on today. This goes to show that some ideas indeed never die.

This idea of cats still carried on in Elizabethan England, where during the queen’s coronation, an effigy of a cat was burned. This effigy was stuffed with live cats…a claw-full act to bestow on our furry friends. 

The End of the War 

So, there you have it—a terrible thing to happen to such adorable creatures. Our pet cats have had a rough time during some periods of history due to a misunderstanding of how disease spreads and a strong religious belief.

So, although entirely wrong, the logic was built upon the belief that cats, like witches, were in league with the devil. When people weren’t as informed as they are today, the Church was the primary source of guidance and authority. People feared that God would punish them for not showing their loyalty to the Church.    

But our cats still survived, and they are still as Purr-fect as ever.            


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