Purrs and prayers: a year of video sermons and cat mischief at cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral cats
Canterbury Cathedral cats
PA Wire

When a cheeky cat first jumped on the table during online prayers at Canterbury Cathedral, staff almost hit paws on the recording.

But a year later and the three mischievous felines who live at the 1,400-year-old seat of worship have proved to be the purr-fect pandemic stars.

Leo, Tiger and “little lady cat” Lilly spend their days padding amiably around the cathedral gardens – and sometimes disrupting the daily sermons, which are broadcast online to a global audience.

Leo, 10, was first to gain worldwide fame when he was caught on camera wandering into view before disappearing beneath the Dean of Canterbury’s robes in May last year.

Not to be outdone, his furry comrade Tiger, 14, has shown his hungry side, stealing milk with a paw last year and pinching a whole pancake on Pancake Day last month.

His Shrove Tuesday feat was made all the more poignant as he has recently overcome losing a paw to cancer.

Cats have a will of their own,” Dean of Canterbury Robert Willis told the PA news agency.

People were I think sort of lifted with cheerfulness because things were going on which were unplanned and they began to get to know all the creatures that we have in these gardens.”

It may be that viewers struggling with their own pet-related Zoom issues sympathised with what became regular unplanned contributions to the Dean’s recordings.

“The real explosion came I think with Leo walking into my cassock that morning and people finding that hilarious,” he added.

Perhaps the least well-known of the three is dainty 14-year-old Lilly, Leo’s mother.

“She is a real lady, she lives for admiration and she comes to us when she wants,” the Dean said happily.

“Lilly is black and white, which the Americans call a tuxedo cat, and the minute you mention her name she appears again.”

In addition to the feline trio, the cathedral is home to pigs, bees, turkeys and roosters – one of whom crowed his way into the spotlight last year.

Canterbury Cathedral cats

The animals have featured in the Dean’s daily morning prayer services, which have been shown online since lockdown hit in March 2020.

“We found ourselves without a cathedral to go into and also locked into our homes,” he told PA.

“So we decided that we would just come into the garden and film, and that was a snap decision and so we began that filming.

“At first we did it for our own congregation and then we realised that people were watching from all over the world… people tuned in as day broke across the other side of the Atlantic or on the other side of America in the Pacific… or the next morning in the Philippines.”

Each morning the Dean and his team will choose a location in the cathedral precincts to film that day’s prayers – sometimes to tie in with a special occasion.

Looking ahead, the cathedral is preparing to welcome back members of its congregation now that the Government has published its road map for lifting restrictions.

The Dean told PA: “There will be an occasion where we give thanks for being together again.

“I’m sure also there will be an occasion when we shall gather to lament the tragedies that have happened in lockdown and those who’ve lost their lives, and give a hurray in this nation for the National Health Service, all of those things.”

Asked if the return to in-person services would mean the end of online prayers, Dr Willis said some would continue, no doubt in part due to the fame of Leo, Tiger and Lilly.

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