Blogs > Cliopatria > Why Dead Cats Were Sometimes Bricked Up in New Buildings?

Apr 29, 2004 7:38 pm

Why Dead Cats Were Sometimes Bricked Up in New Buildings?

Richard Macey, in the Sydney Morning Herald (April 29, 2004):

Evidence of secret rituals and ancient builders' superstitions have been unearthed in Australia's historical buildings.

A mummified cat was found under the floor of a Ballarat theatre. Another turned up entombed in the foundations of a Queensland house. And workmen repairing the ceiling of a Mudgee home discovered an old boot secreted in the building's chimney.

Suddenly Australia's historians have a strange, new subject to explore - the role of magic and superstition in protecting colonial construction from evil."Just when we thought we knew everything about old houses, this pops up," says Ian Evans, a researcher who studies old Australian buildings and author of 12 books, including The Federation House - A Restoration Guide and Caring for Old Houses.

The practice of bricking a dead cat or old shoe in a building, says Evans, appears to have been transported to Australia from Britain, where the habit may date back as far as the 12th century. The cats were not alone. They were often found"posed" in cavities under the floor chasing dead rats:" catching spiritual vermin", explains Evans.

In Britain, about 200 mummified rats have been found guarding buildings in recent years. Since 1970 some 1500 shoes have been discovered bricked high into walls throughout Europe, usually in cavities around the chimney.

"There is a legend that in the 14th century a pastor named John Schorn, from the parish of North Marston, Buckinghamshire, conjured the devil into the boot. I think that's where the idea of putting a shoe into a building came from.

"They believed, it seems, that an evil spirit or a witch flying over the landscape in the night would be attracted to the shoe in the chimney and would be trapped there, instead of attacking the people living in the house.

"You have to put aside your 21st-century logic and think of a time when people constantly lived in fear of death. You could die from the plague or appendicitis."

Similar cases in Australia, discovered in the past year or two, have excited Evans and other architectural historians.

comments powered by Disqus