Aelwaer’s Cat is a fictional cat associated with or ‘owned’ by Saint Aelwaer who was a demonic anti-saint and mother of all vices. She was a ‘Virgin Mary in reverse’. She is portrayed in a Dutch woodcut of 1550. It is reproduced below.
You can see that she is portrayed ridding a donkey. The magpie on her head symbolises immortality. The pig under her arm symbolises gluttony. The cat held aloft in her right hand symbolises the forces of evil. This cat is Aelwaer’s Cat.
The cat is raised high to advertise the fact that it is in league with the devil. This was the period in Europe when cats were brutally persecuted as familiars of witches and creatures of wickedness.
An alternative interpretation is provided by Sarah Hartwell (messybeast.com). She suggests that Dr Desmond Morris’s interpretation is incorrect. Aelwaer is part of a Dutch tradition of joke saints which mock Catholicism and its rituals. In her interpretation, the magpie represents a big mouth who refuses to be wrong. The cat represents a quarrelsome attitude reflecting noisy cat quarrels during cat fights and courtship rituals, the donkey represents intransigence and obstinacy while the squealing pig represents the injustices that St Aelwaer endured.
St. Aelwaer was a joke patron saint of drunkards, men who frequented taverns and arrived home late drunk where they were nagged by their wives. At the time, Sarah says, that there were lots of joke saints such as St Lazybones and St Emptiness.
Sources (1) Dr Desmond Morris’s Cat World A Feline Encyclopedia and British Museum online and (2) Sarah Hartwell of messybeast.com – “in pursuit of truth”..
The print was made by: Cornelis Anthonisz. Theunissen — publisher/printer; printmaker; painter/draughtsman; Dutch; Male; c.1505 – 1553.
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