Pangur Ban the white cat, mentioned in the verse I put up here
really existed.  ‘Pangur Ban’ is Gaelic Old Irish for ‘white fuller’, so presumably the cat was white!

The story goes that the poem was written in the Old Irish language about the 9th century by an anonymous Irish monk who lived in St  Paul’s monastery on Reichenau Island in Lake Constance.  He was writing a book which contains hymns, grammar and astronomical tables, with some glosses in Old High German.  I love the idea of his working late at night by the light of a candle, his cat roaming around the room hunting mice:  the monk gets bored with all his worthy work, and for light relief writes this poem in the middle of his manuscript.  Here’s a copy of the original page:

File:Reichenauer Schulheft 1v 2r kl1.jpg

A 15th century monastery cat disgraced itself by jumping up on the writing desk, standing in the ink, then walking all over a monk’s manuscript:

And another 15th century monk is seriously fed up, because the cat has jumped up and peed on his work in the night:

– see the gap and the pointing fingers drawn on the right hand side??  Sideways-on he has written in Latin:

Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.’

With thanks for this fascinating information to


14 thoughts on “CATS AND MONKS

  1. At one church I attend quite often and at which I have preached on several occasions, there is quite often a dog or a cat in the congregation. Mostly the dogs are very respectful and well behaved, but on one occasion the cat lay down and fell asleep on my sermon so I had to make do without my notes.


  2. I’m finding that Nadia is no longer answering my emails, and the one occasion when she has, recently, she’s made it sound as if they aren’t able to make it any better. I really don’t know why. Other sites can – why not this one?


  3. Hahahaha….I really enjoyed this, it brings an ancient world to life so wonderfully! I love the little paw prints but can completely understand why the monk didn’t! It seems so romantic to write by candle light but I imagine it was hard on the old


  4. A far better insight into monastic life and social contacts than any written description tells, especially with animals, some probably like farm cats, others pets. A lovely demonstrations of the writer/readers level of frustration, too. Holiness where art thou? Obviously these are cases for the attention of St Francis of Assisi.


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