On a grassy bank outside a medieval church in southwest England, there lies a small gravestone which reads simply “The Church Cat 1912-1927”.
This is the marker of Tom the Church Cat, one-time resident of St Mary Redcliffe church in Bristol.
Tom, a tabby kitten, was found outside the priests’ entrance to the building sometime in 1912. Perhaps he was attracted to the organ music… after all, it was in 1912 that a 71-stop organ with over 4,300 pipes was installed at St Mary Redcliffe—an impressive instrument considered by its maker Arthur Harrison as his “finest and most characteristic work”.
Having found a suitable home, Tom settled in for the long haul, and his care fell to the church Verger, Eli Richards.
Tom was partial to music, and organist Alfred Hollins recalls in his autobiography that the music-loving feline used to sit on a stool beside him during rehearsals. Tom would process with the choir on occasion, and also liked to sit by the organist’s side for part of the service. During the sermon, Tom often sat on the lap of a member of the congregation.
Tom was an expert hunter of rats and mice, along with the occasional pigeon. When the altar cross was removed in the early 1920s, a large zinc bathtub was filled three times with bones and feathers… remnants of the many unfortunate creatures that met their fate at the claws of Tom.
In 1927, the faithful church cat left this mortal coil. In recognition of his many years of devoted service, he was given a grand funeral. To the sound of his beloved organ, Tom’s small coffin was carried to the gravesite by the Verger, accompanied by the Vicar and Wardens, and laid to rest outside the south entrance.