The more I blog about Torcello, the more I think of to say (and I’ve got photos galore) so this may keep going for a while. But I’m going to jump ahead to the best part – what happened in the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (my best church visit ever).
The Torcello cathedral celebrated "il millennio” (its thousandth anniversary) last year – it’s the oldest monumental building in the lagoon and is such a gorgeous place with everything I love about Venetian sacred architecture….lots of old glowing marble, a magical Madonna mosaic on the golden apse, multi-coloured mosaic floors, an ancient wooden ceiling, fresco fragments here and there, and Byzantine carvings with peacocks and flowers and twining grape vines.
So I was already blissed out just strolling around the cathedral when I looked over and saw two of the Torcello cats walk in the church, one a lovely long-haired fluffy cat and the other a cute short-haired tabby. They went over and climbed up onto the pews (it was a very cold day and I figure they wanted to get off those cold marble floors).
As anyone who reads my blog knows, I’m a cat lover and I’m also very interested in the cats of Venice. For the past several years, the first thing I’ve done after I’ve dumped my luggage off at the Locanda is go to feed the semi-feral cat colony on the porch of the church of San Lorenzo, and I’m always on the look-out for cats when I’m in Venice. I never expected to see them in this cathedral though!
So I went over and sat down close to them, but not too close because I didn’t want to scare them off. The San Lorenzo cats aren’t completely feral (they don’t run away in terror when humans come around) but they aren’t friendly either.
Well, the Torcello cats seemed okay so I moved a little closer to the tabby and finally reached out to see if it would let me touch it, and it did. The long-haired fluffy cat got down on the prayer rail at my feet, and I sat there and petted the tabby.
And then the tabby stood up and climbed into my lap, curled up, and went to sleep!
I felt like my heart was going to explode. It was so surprising and unexpected and sweet.
I flashed back to a post I did a couple of weeks before my trip….E.V. Lucas’ story about a cat climbing into his lap in the Frari. Lucas wrote his guidebook in the early 20th century and I loved his story but thought, that’s the kind of thing that might have happened a hundred years ago but would never happen now, they don’t let cats in churches anymore. So I was blown away when it happened to me too! I told this story to A Lover of Venice who said, “That’s what I would call a magical encounter” and it really was....
I sat there for about 30 minutes and held that cat and looked at the cathedral. Both cats were purring off and on. And it was fun to watch the faces of people who came into the cathedral. There weren’t a lot of tourists that day, but a steady stream of people was coming in. Most people looked at me and smiled but a few looked at me and made this face, like “Why in the world did that woman bring her cats to church?” Very funny.
I was so blissed out. It was by far the best visit I’ve ever had to any church, Venice or otherwise, and there’s no way to top it. I was so touched by these cats and if I could have figured out a way to bring them home with me, I would have. I did wish that someone had been with me to take a photo. The best I could do was snap a few non-flash photos of the fluffy cat (with glimpses of those amazing mosaic floors) and this one of the tabby’s head in my lap.
The photo at the very top of the post is what I was looking at as I sat there and held the cat. Then the church lady yelled at me to stop taking photos. :)
Finally, the long-haired cat on the prayer rail woke up and jumped up beside me. I petted it for a while too (its hair was very matted and I wished I'd had a comb). Then it nudged the tabby, and they both jumped down and left the church. When I left the church, I looked for them but didn’t see them again.
Okay, this was Torcello cat story Number One. More about the cathedral and Torcello cat story Number Two (!) coming soon.
A poster for the Torcello "il millenio" with another view of the interior of this amazing church.