As Christmas is drawing near, I thought I’d look into the evidence as to whether a tabby cat genuinely was in a barn or stables where Mary took Jesus and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn (a guestroom).
One point to clarify is that the word “manger” means a long open box or trough for horses or cattle to feed from. So Mary was in a barn of some sort and she placed her baby, Jesus, in a manger as a substitute for a crib.
The legend is that a tabby cat was in the barn. Elisa, a colleague of mine, wrote about it on December 20, 2018. The legend states that a mother tabby cat was in the barn with her kittens and Jesus was crying. The tabby jumped up onto Mary’s lap, curled up next to baby Jesus and began to purr. The purring resonated throughout the barn and created a calmness which put Jesus to sleep. God blessed the tabby cat by tracing an ‘M’ on his forehead and thenceforth all tabby cats have been distinguished by this God-given mark.
There is no scientific or hard evidence that a cat was in the barn or stables. But it is distinctly possible that (s)he was there because it’s a known fact that cats and horses get along really well in interspecies relationships. And barn cats are very commonplace and were certainly even more common back at the time of the birth of Jesus. These are semi-feral cats, often highly domesticated, in fact, living on farms. They’re useful. It’s a throwback to the time when cat domestication was about keeping down the rodent population.
And also at the time of Jesus, the tabby cat was pretty much the only cat coat around. The coat is inherited from the domestic cat’s wild cat ancestor. It would have been a mackerel tabby or striped coat. The classical blotch tabby developed many years later towards the 18th century.
So, although there is a lack of hard evidence such as a biblical text which magically tells us that a cat was there, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that it actually happened. As an aside, the Bible never mentions cats except for large wild cats including the lion as a symbol of strength. There is not one reference to the domestic cat in the Bible although dogs are mentioned. That may surprise people because domestic cats had been around for a long time at the time of the birth of Jesus. And they must have been part of the lives of, at least, some citizens in and around Bethlehem. The authors who wrote the Bible hundreds of years after the event clearly didn’t find any significance or importance in the cat to bother to write about it.
As the domestic cat gained tremendously in popularity the idea of a cat occupying the stables where Jesus was nursed came to fruition.