Holy Cat

Monastery is Sanctuary
for Snake-Hunting Felines

For 2,000 years, Cyprus cats have had a sacred haven in the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas. It was built in 327 ACE by Kalokeros, the island’s first Byzantine governor, at a time when a terrible drought somehow caused Cyprus to be overrun by poisonous snakes.
To prevent people from leaving the island for good, no less than Saint Helena, mother of Alexander the Great, came up with the brilliant idea of having a thousand cats brought over from Egypt and the Palestine, to fight the reptiles.
As with everything happening at those times (are you kidding? just look at the people mentioned so far in this story), the battle must have been one of heroic proportions, but the cats prevailed and earned the right to, well, own the place.
That’s right, after the cats rid Cyprus of the pesky snakes, the surrounding lands were awarded to the Byzantine monks with one condition: to take good care of them. You would too, if you didn’t want to get on the bad side of Alexander’s mama. Who on top of everything was also a saint, as we mentioned.
The Turks almost spoiled the whole deal in the 16th Century, when they invaded Cyprus (they would do it again in the 1970s, but that’s another story). They did destroy the monastery and slaughtered or imprisoned the monks, but apparently could not find a single cat to kill. The smart and seasoned bunch scattered around the island and was adopted by grateful locals, who by then, knew very well which side their bread was buttered on.
The record says that what’s now known unofficially as the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Cats was rebuilt and abandoned many times since, until a group of nuns took over it in 1983. They now run it under the same original principles as a sacred place both for the devout and for the cats, and not necessarily in this order.
In other words, you may visit the monastery but may find hard to find shelter there during high season. On the other hand, anyone forgetting the distinguished patrons’ sacred meal time, even if just once, risks being subjected to the ill temper of a certain mother, whose spirit still patrols the place.

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