Graveyard Cats

This post is dedicated to the felines of the Atlantic World: those sun-loving souls who spend their days (and nights) lounging in the cemeteries that grace the Atlantic Rim. This week I feature two cemetery cats: Wunzie (Newport) and Iyar (Ouderkerk aan de Amstel) as well as their sepulchral companions, the lions carved onto Beth Haim Ouderkerk gravestones.

Cat Number One: Wunzie. Officially, Wunzie lives down the street from the Trinity Church Cemetery in Newport, RI. Last time I was in Newport, however, Wunzie spent most of her time sunning herself on table stones and chasing bugs among the upright markers. A black and white DSH (domestic short hair: veterinary speak for "cat mutt") with a sparkling personality, Wunzie likes to ham it up for the camera. Here are a few shots of her in her favorite haunt. If anyone in Newport knows how Wunzie is doing, let me know!

Wunzie Modeling a "Table Stone," Trinity Church (Anglican) Cemetery, Newport RI

Wunzie Catching a Bug, Trinity Church (Anglican) Cemetery, Newport RI

Cat Number Two: Iyar. Iyar is an official graveyard cat of the historic Portuguese-Jewish cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel in the Netherlands. She lives in the Caretaker's House with her younger cat companion and her master, Dennis Ouderdorp, who knows more about Jewish Cemeteries than anyone I have ever met. (Because I lack social graces, I only have a picture of Dennis's cat, and not Dennis himself.) Named for the Hebrew month of Iyar (meaning "Rosette" or "blossom"), Iyar is the matriarch of the cemetery. You will notice that like Wunzie, Iyar is a black and white DSH. Coincidence? I think so. The day I was in Ouderkerk ann de Amstel it was pouring rain, so I don't have quite as many photos of Iyar as I'd like, but here is another of her on one of the flat Sephardic table stones.

Iyar on an unidentified Table Stone, Beth Haim Ouderkerk

Iyar and her companion aren't the only cats in Beth Haim Ouderkerk. Although the earliest gravestones at Beth Haim Ouderkerk are free of images of living things, by the 1650s the use of vegetation appears, followed by death’s heads and human hands in the 1660s. By the 1680s animals, angels and biblical scenes with humans appear. One of the most popular animals to grace the stones are lions, several styles of which can be found in the cemetery. Lions are an important Jewish symbol, and often appear on Jewish ceremonial art, such Arks, Torah crowns, and menorot. The JHOM speculates that, "It is possible..that these lions, particularly those on many Torah Ark doors and curtains, are symbolic replacements of the original cherubim that once adorned the Ark of the Tabernacle in the Mishkan (portable Temple in the wilderness) and the Temple in Jerusalem." Lions—associated with the tribe of Judah and the Davidic monarchy—evoked the messiah and hence are an important eschatological reference. Lions are also associated with the Spanish-Portuguese name "Leon" (literally "lion") and are a common heraldic symbol (for example they are found on the coat of arms for "Castile and Leon," Spain and the Netherlands). Many of the lions in Beth Haim Ouderkerk are on heraldic lions (for example above right, gravestone of Benjamin Senior Teixeira, 1744). They can also be found, however, in biblical scenes, such as the one below depicting Daniel and the lions.

Detail of Gravestone Depicting Daniel and the Lions, Beth Haim Ouderkerk

Photo Credits: All Photos Laura Leibman, 2007-2009. Courtesy of Beth Haim Ouderkerk aan de Amstel.

3 Responses to “Graveyard Cats”:

  1. I was amused to find your photographs of Wunzie. On Sunday mornings she ventures into Trinity Church to join us for the Eucharist. A photograph of her sitting with the choir on Sunday morning recently appeared in the Newport Daily News.

    She also loves to wander through the burying ground each night during the "Haunted Newport" tours to complete the scene for tourists.

    Thanks for posting this!

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  3. I am thrilled to hear she is doing well! Here is a link to a picture of her with the choir ! Thanks for the update!

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