Cats and dogs

We were allowed pets when we were children, but not a cat or a dog. I think mum must have thought that they would be too ‘messy’. So my first pet was Snowy, a white mouse, which died rather suddenly much to my distress. But it had a good burial in the back garden, my dad even going so far as to make a little cross for it out of lollypop sticks on which he wrote the name ‘Snowy’. I remember it well.

All our pets by Rosie Brooks

Then we had lots of those goldfish that you brought home from fairgrounds in a plastic bag and hoped they would survive the shock of being emptied out into a goldfish bowl. Surprisingly some of them did live for a while, swimming through the little arch that was in the bottom of the bowl, managing to grab some sustenance from that food we sprinkled on the top of the water.

I think on one occasion we were allowed to look after the classroom hamster during a school holiday but that was a rather stressful period. My mum didn’t want to have to go through the trauma of it dying on our watch and having to explain to the teacher what had happened with a distressed class of children looking on and hating us.

We did better with a bird, Beauty, a cockatiel. He was my sister’s pet though as I remember it was mum who had to clean the cage out. In fact the bird hated my mum because, I think, she was always screaming at my brother to stop fiddling with the cage. In fact Beauty had strong opinions about people and lived a long time as members of the parrot family tend to do. When my sister hitched herself to her boyfriend the bird became very jealous and decided to hate the guy who would become my brother-in-law as much as he hated my mum. When my sister was married and left home her husband refused to allow the bird to come as well. So mum ended up having to look after it – even though it would attach its beak to her finger whenever she went near it – and she and my father took on the responsibility until the morning they came down and found poor Beauty dead on the floor of the cage.

There were no more pets in our life.

So getting to know Doorkins and Hodge at the Cathedral has been a somewhat unusual experience for me, and to be drawn into the real world of pets – the world of cats and dogs – as opposed to mice, goldfish and cockatiels has been fascinating and not without its joys. I have also learnt, especially around the death of Doorkins and the subsequent debate about whether we were right or not, deluded or devoted, to hold a memorial service for our feline friend, that the world of pets is a place where angels fear to tread.

So I was amazed when it was reported last week that Pope Francis made the comments he did about pets and babies and about what he described as the selfishness of those for whom their pet is a surrogate baby. Surely his erstwhile canonised namesake, the animal lover par excellence, St Francis of Assisi should have warmed him in a vision not to go near the subject! The only consolation is that on this occasion the Pope was not speaking infallibly!

On the face of it the story seems trivial but the underlying issue is a serious one. The reasons given for marriage in the Prayer Book are clear. In the Preface to the Solemnization of Marriage it gives this as the first reason that marriage was given by God to humanity

First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

In subsequent revisions the order has been changed. But it is still there, marriage is about having babies, and, as we were taught at college, a couple entering into a marriage intending it to be childless would be making the sacrament deficient. But I don’t think that this is at all the world we live in now. Many couples want children, some don’t, some can’t. But what most couples, whatever the relationship looks like, whoever it is made up of, will have a lot of love and that needs to be expressed beyond themselves. I have very close friends for whom nieces, nephews and godchildren are their children, for whom pets are a source of love and support. These people, in my experience, are anything but selfish. It is just too easy to think, when you see a little dog’s head emerging from a designer handbag as you make your way along Bond Street that this is a surrogate baby and the person whose handbag and pet is in is inherently selfish.

The thing I have learnt observing how people relate to Doorkins and Hodge is that the cats bring out the best in their admirers. There is such love, such affection, such comfort that I can’t begin to dismiss it or diminish it.

Jesus stands in the middle of the flowers of the field on a hillside in Galilee and asks his disciples to ‘Look at the birds’, ‘Consider the lilies’ (Matthew 6) to understand ourselves in relation to all that God has created, to find our place and our values and our priorities in relation to the whole of creation. That has to include the pets who so generously share their love and their lives with us – and that even includes Beauty!

God of love, may I value love wherever I truly find it. Amen.


Doorkins, Hodge and much, much more

Like spring cleaning some jobs seem to come round faster and faster as you get that bit older. When Lent begins I know that at some stage I need to sit down and write my annual report so that it can be published on Easter Day. In normal times I have taken the opportunity to go up to the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield. I book one of the guests rooms in the College, hide myself away and also take the opportunity to worship with the College and the Community and to catch up with life there. It all works very well. Obviously, for the last two years, or rather the last two occasions that I’ve had to write the report, I haven’t been able to do that and instead I have simply had to shut the door of the study and get writing.

Although it is a task that hangs over me, when I actually get going it is something I love to do. Once I know how to begin I just get going, a stream of consciousness, memories, reflections on life at the Cathedral. I was working it out and this is the tenth report that I have had to write – the first one as Acting Dean and the rest as Dean. Looking back they are a record of our life as a community, chronicling all that has happened.

This year was obviously like no other, but you could say that of any year. This past year though was beyond our imagining and so much has happened even whilst the doors of the Cathedral have been closed. In the sermon I blogged on Easter Day I was reflecting on the way in which God gets on with the work of resurrection even in the dark and it applies equally to the year we are thinking about. Behind the closed doors of the Cathedral, as in the sealed tomb, the work of God went on.

I love the verse in which Jesus says this

‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ (John 5.17)

Even when things appear locked down our Creator God is creating, recreating, resurrecting. I find that thought, that truth enormously comforting and supportive. It is not all up to us, we don’t have to do it all.

So, 2020! Where do you begin? Well in my report I began with Pepys and his experience of the plague. I’m just finishing the wonderful novel ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell. Again it is written from a plague perspective and is deeply moving. Just as an aside I really appreciate getting to know Edmond Shakespeare that bit better, even through the pages of a novel. He lies in the choir of Southwark Cathedral, buried there by his brother, William, and makes his appearance in this story. So it was with the reality of plague in London that I began, but the journey would take me through the pandemic and the locking down and the unlocking, the new things we learnt, the fresh experiences we shared. Of course, as part of that we saw Doorkins die and Hodge arrive. Those little cats have made the journey with us along with thousands of others who are part of that wider community at Southwark Cathedral. Through it all God has been working and the Holy Spirit has been leading.

So I invite you to read my report. You can download it here.

Next Sunday we will be holding our Annual Parochial Church Meeting, delayed by a week because of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, but the opportunity for people to question me about the year that has passed. We will never see the like again.

God of time and of eternity, ever at work, ever present, as you have seen us through the year past guide us through the year to come, whatever it may hold. Amen.

Welcome to Hodge

It was a very strange day when Doorkins, the Southwark Cathedral cat died. We had been talking for a while about whether or not we should have another cat. On a practical level we needed help with keeping the number of mice and rats down. Situated where we are, between the river and the market you can imagine that at times the place resembles Hamelin rather than London! But on an emotional level we all missed having a little cat about the place. But where would we get a cat from? Doorkins had just arrived and that was part of her charm and part of the power of her story that worked on so many levels for so many people.

One of the things that Doorkins had managed to do whilst she was with us was support Catcuddles Sanctuary. They are a local charity who say of themselves

Catcuddles is a registered charity that is all about promoting and strengthening the feline-human bond and helping pair up unwanted cats with loving forever homes and humans.

You can find out more about them here.

Lots of people very generously brought loads of food and treats in for Doorkins, more than she could reasonably eat. So she shared the surplus with Catcuddles. It was to them that we therefore turned to help us find a rescue cat that was looking for a ‘loving forever home’.

This is Hodge

They came back to us eventually with a suggestion, a little boy cat, just two years old and looking for love and a place of safety. It was agreed that he should see if he liked us and we should see if we liked him. So the arrangement was made and the trial date set. It turned out to be the very day that Doorkins died that Hodge arrived into our lives – and we love him and he loves us.

This is the story of Hodge that Catcuddles wrote about him

In July, a local woman was beginning her daily commute to work when she encountered a cat with an obvious facial deformity. She approached and was able to snap a picture of the friendly black and white cat, who had a large, bulbous growth of some kind protruding from his bottom jaw. It being a busy urban area, the cat was then startled by some passers-by and she lost sight of him. Nevertheless, she was extremely worried about his condition and initiated help straight away, posting on local groups, and contacting CatCuddles. We were immediately concerned by the description of the growth, as the causes of such a swelling are numerous and potentially serious. Despite being at capacity in terms of fostering space at that time, we agreed to accept the cat into the charity’s care ASAP and treat him at our new North London vet clinic. Unfortunately, initial searches for the cat, by both the original finder and by CatCuddles volunteers, were unsuccessful, but in the ensuing day or so more was discovered about him. He belonged to a local business.

Unfortunately, in this particular area, we have previously encountered issues with businesses obtaining cats as a means of vermin control for their premises, but then failing to adequately meet their cats’ needs or neuter them. In such instances, we have no legal powers to intervene, and can only offer advice, assistance with vet care, the option of rehoming, or otherwise pass details onto the RSPCA, who have marginally better legal recourse. Thankfully, in the case of this sociable black and white boy, the owners agreed to surrender him to the charity so that he could receive full veterinary treatment for his facial swelling, and then go on to be rehomed.

At CatCuddles, the cat was given a new name – Hodge – and investigations were immediately made into the cause of his large growth. More good news followed when a biopsy revealed no cancerous cells – the worse-case scenario that our team had been dreading. Instead, it was discovered that the swelling was the result of a severe infection, caused by aggressive, deeply entrenched bacteria. He was immediately placed on antibiotics and surgery was scheduled to excise the lump, in hopes of banishing the nasty infection for good. Hodge immediately became a hit with the CatCuddles’ volunteer team. He is, quite simply, an incredibly lovely cat; sociable, outgoing and gentle. He also has a ferocious appetite and would keep eating as long as our volunteers continued to feed him! In the ensuing weeks, Hodge’s growth began to shrink daily as a result of the antibiotics, until all that remained was a small swelling. It soon became clear that the surgery would not be necessary – more good news for this sweet, gentle boy.

For the past couple of months Hodge has been getting acquainted with us and his new home. He has a voracious appetite both for food and love. He is either waiting for more food or rolling on to his back inviting tickles on his tummy. Leave the brocade vestments uncovered and he is immediately onto them enjoying the feel of expensive fabric! Everyone who comes in is immediately smitten; he is adorable.

Getting to know the Bishop of Kingston’s chair!

So today, the Feast of St Nicholas, the giver of good gifts, he is making his debut and being introduced to the congregation. Let’s hope he likes them as much as likes the vergers.

One of the features of this pandemic is the increasing number of people who have had to escape abusive, destructive, damaging relationships and situations. Places of refuge, sanctuaries are vital as are those forever homes where you know you can be loved and where you can be safe. The church prides itself on being a sanctuary but too often we have not been a safe place. Whether in terms of safeguarding, whether as places where homophobic attitudes, where sexism and elitism are allowed to flourish, where abuse can sometimes go unrecognised, challenged or unchecked, I hope that Hodge will help us to tell a better story.

The text I return to so often are those verses from St Matthew’s Gospel, so familiar and so powerful.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11.28-30)

We open our hearts, we open our homes, we create places of love and safety for cats and humans! God has opened the divine, gentle, humble heart of love to us.

Loving God, embrace us, hold us, in your place of safety, in your love, that your house may be our forever home. Amen.

You can watch a short film about Hodge here.

Grief and sorrow

When Doorkins, the Cathedral cat, died and we decided to have a service to give thanks to God for all that she had done for us, I thought that a few eyebrows might be raised but, to be honest, I hadn’t anticipated such a reaction as we saw last week. Call me naïve. But I was surprised by the reaction in both directions, those who who felt it was an affront in the situation in which we find ourselves to those who were bearing such burdens of grief and distress and those who felt that it was entirely appropriate that a cat’s death should not pass without mention.

I have been deeply moved by the messages and the emails that I’ve received since we held the service. So many people took the time to try to put into words not so much what Doorkins meant to them but what the service meant to them. Doorkins had a huge fan club and so there were many people who were expressing their sorrow at her death but even more than that there were people telling another story.

One person wrote this

Why was I crying? For my beautiful students who lost their finals and their graduation. For my daughter who had her gap year ruined and is currently confined to one room at her University … For the summer we all lost. For the freedoms we didn’t realise we had that are now replaced by fears and suspicions. For the local art house cinema, now shut. For theatre and actors and artists. For my BAME colleagues who have had so many family deaths and no family funerals.

I wept as I read it.

When I was beginning the process of formation for priestly ministry at Mirfield a book was published by SPCK called ‘Letting Go: Caring for the Dying and Bereaved’. It was by someone called Ian Ainsworth-Smith. When I eventually came down to Southwark I had the privilege of meeting him and now count him as a friend as he is a Canon Emeritus of Southwark. Ian was chaplain at St Christopher’s Hospice and wrote out of the wealth of his experience. The book had a profound effect on me. I remember in particular reading about how the process of grief and mourning can be delayed. We know it can be so. Someone dies and we simply can’t cry, the tears don’t flow. We are filled with feelings of guilt – ‘I should be in tears; but I can’t cry’. And then, later, after it has all happened, after the funeral and the ham tea have happened, after months, even years have passed, something occurs. Someone else dies; we break a plate at home; a pet dies – and it’s as though a cork is removed, a dam is breached and the tears flow and the grief and sorrow can be expressed. Ian was able to explain and describe it more ably than me.

Whenever I hear Purcell’s ‘Dido’s Lament’ I weep and not in the same way in which I can cry when the first strains of the ‘Sound of Music’ begin. This is crying from a deep place, this is the cry of lament and grief and sorrow. The text, drawn from to the Aeneid, the story of the Trojan Wars, is this

When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

As the person who emailed me so ably described there is so much to weep about at the moment and there is more yet to come. We have already lost so much, so many and the grief we hold is in many ways overwhelming. And then a little cat dies and nice things are said and beautiful music performed and the flood gates open.

It was a terrible week. We had just learnt about the death of the migrant family in the Channel, Rasul and Shiva and their children Anita and Armin and their third child Artin, yet to be found. Then after the service we heard about the terrorist attack in Nice and the killing of Vincent, Simone and a third woman not yet named, in church. There is so much to weep about.

Jesus stands at the grave of his friend Lazarus and he weeps.

When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ (John 11.33-37)

Jesus weeps and then raises his friend to life. Jesus weeps as we weep and then shows us the empty tomb and his hands and his side, wounded, yet glorious. There is light in the darkness, it’s just that on occasions it has to be something as fragile as a little cat to show us.

God of consolation, hold us as we weep, sustain us in our sorrow, allow us to grieve, then lead us to life, your gift to us in Jesus. Amen.

In memory of Doorkins

Our good friend Celia Pike has produced a beautiful card in memory of Doorkins. We are grateful to her for all the lovely images that she has produced over the years. They have given pleasure to so many people.

(c) Celia Pike

You can find the memorial card along with all the other Doorkins images on the online shop page on the Cathedral website here

Doorkins Magnificat

We had some goldfish, the kind that you won at the fair, brought home in a little plastic bag and which swam round a bowl until they swam no more. We had a white mouse called ‘Snowy’ which didn’t survive very well. We did better with my sister’s Cockatiel called ‘Beauty’ which was with us for a very long time. But because it developed a passionate hatred of my sister’s boyfriend, who was to become her husband, when she left home to get married the bird didn’t go with her. But we were never allowed a cat or a dog. The thought of the mess and disorder they would bring was too much for my mum to contemplate – after all, the mouse was in the shed, the fish in a bowl and the bird in a cage whereas a dog or a cat would be anywhere and everywhere.

I always enjoyed seeing other people’s larger pets, dogs that would jump up you and cats that would dig sharp claws into you but I never committed to actually having one myself. So when Doorkins arrived at the Cathedral back in 2008 this was something of a novel experience for me.

I’ve written in this blog on a number of occasions about Doorkins Magnificat to give her her full name. I’ve told her story to a great many people and I’ve enjoyed doing that. Although she wasn’t a cuddly cat I grew to love her, very quickly grew to love her. She had real character, she treated us with a measure of disdain, I respected her for that. She knew what we could give her and she grew to rely on it. From those first tentative steps into the building she made the church her own. She was never happy going into any other space – the sacristy wasn’t for her – all that gossiping in there probably put her off. She preferred the holy spaces and every so often she would move to another place which became her favourite spot.

At one time it was the Harvard Chapel, secreting herself in a tight little space beneath George Pace’s brutalist sedilia where there was a hot water pipe, then it was one of our stalls, then a seat in the retrochoir, or the north transept, or spread-eagled on one of the grates from which the hot air emerged into the Cathedral. She shrugged off the attention that others tried to give to her; she lashed out when she’d had enough and I couldn’t blame her for that. Celebrity is costly!

She had an uncanny knack of knowing when something significant was happening or someone important was about. If the bishop was there she emerged to eyeball him, taunting him with her presence. A royal visitor might be treated to a little cat rubbing against their leg uncharacteristically seeking a stroke. The solemn moment of the Bidding Paryer at a posh memorial service would be broken into by a little cat wandering onto the tower space, sitting down, washing herself thoroughly, then getting up and walking off as though none of us were there.

It was my predecessor, Colin Slee, who named her and yes, it was a cheeky reference to his nemesis Richard Dawkins, but he spelt the name differently so we could perpetuate a myth that it was just a coincidence. Colin loved Doorkins and she knew it. So when she settled down beneath his coffin the night he lay in the Cathedral before his funeral our hearts were broken. Somehow she knew.

‘Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the Queen. Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair.’

It was Her Majesty of course who visited her. Doorkins was in her favourite place at that time, asleep on a cushion in the Chancellor’s seat in the Consistory Court. The Queen looked, commented and moved on – Doorkins slept on.

Life was ok until 3 June 2017 when the Cathedral was at the epicentre of the terrorist attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market. The vergers had put Doorkins out that night as they did every night as they locked up the Cathedral. She enjoyed her nights out in the market, plenty of scraps, plenty of fun and she could sleep it all off during the day. But what she experienced that night changed everything. She was caught up in the lockdown of the area. We couldn’t get to the Cathedral to rescue her, so she was left to her own devices. We contacted the Met Police and they looked out for her and fed her. But when we got back, opened the door, she ran in and wouldn’t go out again. She had experienced the terror of that evening with everyone else in the Borough Market. After experiencing the kindness of humans she saw the evil that they can do. So she came back to the safety of the Cathedral and like Hannah before stayed in the holy place.

A book was written about her, lovely cards were produced, mouse mats sold, she was a celebrity.

But she was getting older and we knew that. Last year, one Saturday, during a Diocesan spirituality day, she fell down the steps of the tower space in front of everyone. She needed a safer, softer environment and so she had to retire. One of the vergers offered her the comfort of his apartment as her retirement home and she has been there ever since.

Just a few days ago she suffered a stroke. We knew that the end was in sight and it came more rapidly than we had thought. So, on the evening of 30 September at 8.20pm she died in the arms of the verger who had made his home her home.

When we think about who we are as a cathedral we think about Doorkins, just arriving, gradually finding confidence to come in, and then stay, becoming part of the community. She found a place where she could be fed and loved. She found a safe place where people accepted her and let her be who she was. And she made the place softer and gentler and more accessible for the thousands who arrived just to see if they could see her and get a picture they could take away with them.

Thank you, Doorkins and thank you, God, for giving us such companions out of you good creation. Amen.

Pictures (c) Bridget Davey Doorkins memorabilia is available from the Cathedral Online Shop here

A little bit of Doorkins

One of the things that I was pleased about as we entered the lock down was that Doorkins was already safe and enjoying her new home and didn’t have to go through the trauma of being uprooted and plonked somewhere else.  It was clear that she was ready for a more gentle environment in which to live.  The Cathedral is lovely, we all love it, and when you are a bit younger and a cat, a great place to run around and spend the evening doing what cats do and the day sleeping as cats do.  But when age catches up with you and you want some home comforts and unhelpful clergy keep disturbing you, wanting to sit in their own stall, on their own cushions, then of course you might prefer to have somewhere else to call home.

Doorkins 1

Enjoying the lock down sunshine

So Doorkins has spent the lock down in the home of the vergers who offered her a place to live when we decided that it was time for her to retire and put her paws up.  This particular verger has a very nice flat, full of soft furnishings and seldom cold.  The hallway has a lovely radiator that is just the place for a cat bed to be placed and there is plenty of space for a dish full of food and and bowl full of water.  So Doorkins is in a good place.  She now ventures out of the kitchen door and into the little yard, sniffing the fresh air and perhaps remembering when she would spend the day lounging in the churchyard and the evening roaming the Borough Market.

Doorkins 2

Enjoying a scratch

All that wandering really came to an end, as you probably know, when the terrorist attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market happened in 2017.  Doorkins was out that evening in the Borough Market, enjoying herself, just like all the people packed into the pubs and the restaurants on that lovely June evening.  We can only imagine what terror she went through that night – and then we were nowhere to be found for a week.  She must have felt frightened and abandoned.  Thank goodness for the members of the Metropolitan Police who, in the midst of so many other responsibilities, gave time to caring for her.

After that, when she got back into the safety of the Cathedral, she never went out again.  I am always reminded of that lovely verse from Psalm 84

Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young : even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. (Psalm 84.3 – BCP version)

Church is a safe house for all creation, and if for the sparrow and if for Doorkins, then for us as well.

Why am I reminding you of all of this.  Well it’s a bit of blatant product placement really. Some of the most popular things that we sell in the Cathedral Shop are the things that feature Doorkins.  It seems that everyone wants a bit of Doorkins, even though her cousin at Canterbury Cathedral has stolen a lot of the limelight during the lock down!


Fancy one of these?

But the shop has been closed and people have been unable to buy their favourite Doorkins products.  So we are delighted to announce that from this weekend you can shop online at the Southwark Cathedral shop.  The link is here and you can buy more than just Doorkins things.

Everything that you buy supports the ministry of the Cathedral and in these challenging times we need all the help we can to make sure that we continue to do what Southwark is so good at, being a safe and welcoming and diverse and inclusive space, for you and cats and sparrows and God!

may our doors be open to all
and our community a reflection
of your openness and love
for the whole of your creation.


We are all encouraged to plan for our retirement and to find the answers to those questions – where we will live, how we will continue to afford doing the things we like to do, how will we use the spare time we will now have (though retriees tell me that spare time is a fantasy!), that kind of thing. For those of us who have been full-time in ministry in the church one of the real issues is where we are going to live.

It is a joy – mostly – living in a ‘tied cottage’ but it comes at a price at the end.  I have lived in some lovely ‘cottages’ over the last 36 years – a nice semi in suburban Leeds, a flat in a Victorian clergy house in inner-city Leeds, a seventies vicarage just off a main arterial road in that city, a large detached property north of Croydon, a Georgian townhouse off the Elephant and Castle, and now in the Deanery, William & Mary, amazing location, views to die for, parking, a double garage, a garden and all overlooking the Thames!  I have been blessed.  But as I get older at the back of my mind I do keep thinking, ‘Where will I live when I retire?’

I had planned to tell you something about the few days that I spent in Bulgaria and in Sofia in particular, but all that can wait.  Something more important happened last week.

Doorkins - Calendar Images ( -7

Doorkins at home © Bridget Davey

We had been aware for a few weeks that Doorkins, the Southwark Cathedral cat, was not as well as she had been.  She was still finding numerous places to sleep, she was still eating, but there was something not quite right.  It has been one of the many responsibilities of the vergers at the Cathedral – that wonderful team that keep the whole place functioning – to look after her from opening to closing the cathedral.  They said to me that they thought she was deaf and that they thought she was also losing her sight.  We monitored her.  She no longer responded when I called her when I arrived for my prayers in the morning.  Her food bowls were put close to where she was rather than expecting her to find them where they normally were (regular visitors will have noticed food bowls in bizarre places).  But last weekend it came to a head.

During a Saturday day conference with the place full of people Doorkins did her usual trick of coming out to see what was going on and instead couldn’t see the edge of the steps on the tower space and tumbled down one of them.  It was clearly no longer a safe space for her to be in – sharp corners, steps, hundreds of people moving around. Something had to be done for her sake.

So the vergers took her to the vet and the vet confirmed that she couldn’t hear and now couldn’t see.  She needed a more comfortable and safer place to retire to.  Like the clergy she had been in a tied-cottage for all these years, hers just happened to be a 13th century cathedral! One of the vergers came to the rescue.  She could live with them in their tied cottage (yes vergers get the same treatment at Southwark).  So with a mixture of great sadness but relief for her, Doorkins packed her bowls and cushions and left.

The place seems empty.

With Doorkins being such a media personality the news quickly spread and I needed to make a statement.  This is what I have said.

Doorkins - Calendar Images ( -10.jpg

Installed! © Bridget Davey

‘When Doorkins arrived at the Cathedral back in 2008 we didn’t know her name, we didn’t even know she was a ‘she’; she was just a little cat, without a home.  Through the kindness of the vergers she found her way in, enjoyed the food and the warmth and, eventually she made her home with us.  When our former Dean, Colin Slee, died she spent his final night beneath his coffin, she met the Queen (though slept through the experience), she had a book produced about her and over time became a Twitter celebrity.  She was out of the Cathedral when the terrorist attack happened in 2017 and when, finally, she got back into the church, her home, she never left again.  We have come to know her and she has come to know us and the thousands of people who have made friends with her, people who love her.  Over the last few months we have noticed that she has not been so well.  Her hearing and her sight have deteriorated and that came to a head last weekend.  She can no longer find her way around and what was her place of comfort and safety became hazardous and this was confirmed for us when went to see the vet last week who told us that old age has caught up with her.  So she has retired and moved to her retirement home, with one of the vergers, where she is warm and safe and being pampered, just what she deserves.  We will continue to hear news of her.  But at this point I simply want to thank her on all our behalves.  She has become the feline face of Southwark Cathedral, a symbol for many of our openness, our inclusiveness, our hospitality and our humanity.  She is still part of the family but now taking a well-deserved rest.’

The public response since her retirement has been made known has been so full of compassion for her, people have been crying, on the phone, in the cathedral, because she has had to move out and they won’t see her any more around the place.  I can understand all of that.  I was never brought up with a cat or a dog in the house, I had a white mouse called Snowy, some fairground goldfish and my sister had a Cockatiel called Beauty.  That was the extent of our life with pets.  But having shared the cathedral with Doorkins for these eleven years, having had the joy of seeing her in all the places and situations in which she has found herself, I feel her absence as much as any one else.  But this is not her obituary, this is the notice of her retirement and like each of us she deserves a good place in which to retire – and she has got that.


Occupying the best seat in the house

St Francis of Assisi recognised in the created world around him, in the creatures which he encountered on the paths he walked, something of the nature of God. His ‘Canticle of Creation’ is beautiful and we sing versions of it all the time.

All creatures of our God and King, 
lift up your voice and with us sing 
alleluia, alleluia! 

But the final verse I sing with Doorkins in mind.

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise him, alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
and praise the Spirit, three in one. 
O praise him, O praise him, 
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

She has been with us for all our worship, sharing our life, tabernacling in God’s house, her creator as much as mine.  And she has given so much to so many, simply by being a little cat in a sacred place.  If she has meant something special to you then we are delighted and God must be delighted too!

God of hearth and home,
may we each,
created and loved,
find the place of comfort and safety
where we can rest well.

In celebration of Doorkins

You can accuse me of many things.  But you can’t accuse me of having a blog with only one tone or register!  We like to vary things at Southwark, and so do I.  Lots of people come to the cathedral to share in worship, particularly at this time of the year; lots of people come to experience the beauty of the building; and lots of people come to find Doorkins the cat.  One such regular visitor is Norma Reid.  She is a member of the congregation of St Andrew’s URC Church in Walton-on-Thames.  It is through that congregation that we have a link with ArtPeace in Harare and sell so much of their work in our Cathedral Shop.


Well, it seems that Norma has written a poem about Doorkins.  So here it is and thanks to Norma.  By the way, there is a lovely calendar of Doorkins available from the shop with some really beautiful photos of her.  It will cheer up 2019 whatever it holds.  If you want a copy – they are £8.99 – you can email Jon, our Shop Manager, by clicking here.


There’s a hush in the cathedral,  Evensong will soon begin,
There’s a welcome from the wardens as they usher people in.
They have come to look for comfort, inspiration, strength and love
And they sit in contemplation with the vaulted stone above.

It was seven in the morning, ten long years have ceased to be
Since the Verger went to open up – he’d had his cup of tea.
A smile suffused his face – a little cat was waiting there.
The cathedral sought a mouser – it was answer to a prayer.

I’m Doorkins, I’m Magnificat, a name that suits me well,
An Abyssinian foundling, I have a tale to tell.
My life changed in a heartbeat, now it seems so long ago,
It was coming up for Christmas with the smallest hint of snow.

There’s a whisper of a shadow and a soulful, furry face
As the gentle strains of music fill that venerable space.
Then a tabby shadow stops awhile and lends a furry ear,
And the beauty of the music can provoke a furry tear.

My life was void of purpose, I cannot tell a lie,
A veteran of London’s streets, a teardrop in my eye.
I sought in vain a haven, peace and shelter from the storm,
A kindly hand to stroke me and a place to keep me warm.

A thousand years of  history surround this hallowed place.
It’s visitors are guaranteed left spellbound by its grace.
They listen to the guide intent, while  hoping yet to spy
A  little cat called Doorkins,from the corner of their eye.

I keep my counsel as cats do, my four paws on the ground,
The rodent population quakes when Doorkins is around.
A part-time pigeon-fancier, I make them shake a feather,
Though I much prefer to play with them in summer’s clement weather.

When it’s summer in the garden Doorkins stretches on the grass,
To delight the office workers who will stroke her as they pass.
Though, as  cats can do, she’ll scratch you if you catch her unawares.
If it’s early in the morning you might find her saying her prayers.

I’m a photogenic feline that the people love to meet,
I bask in their attention (and my litter tray’s discreet).
When I am stressed and need to chill the crypt is where I choose,
And there’s nothing like a cushion when I want to have a snooze.

There’s a buzz in the cathedral, there’s excitement in the air,
Bristol fashion, smart and shipshape, lowliest pew to Bishop’s chair,
Burnished brass and sparkling silver, stained glass windows whistle-clean.
Everything tuned to perfection for Her Majesty The Queen.

I won’t admit to favourites save the Dean, the Verger too.
When Her Majesty The Queen I met I didn’t have to queue.
We had a brief encounter of the memorable kind.
I think my calming presence helped Her Majesty unwind.

I love this great cathedral, it is my forever home.
As if to prove it, I have been immortalised in stone.
I’m Doorkins, I’m Magnificat, a cut above the rest.
The Cathedral Cat of Southwark,
Put it simply,
I’m The Best.

© Norma Fraser Reid

The silly season

The weather always provides a good amount of news for the papers during August. Photos of happy families on packed beaches, hot tourists taking refuge in cool fountains – it’s the stuff of summer journalism. Or at least it was. I thought that August was meant to be the ‘silly season’, that nothing would fill up my diary, that there would be no meetings, that everyone would be involved in something much more important than doing the serious business of the rest of the year by having fun. So, having my holiday in Spain earlier than I would normally do I returned to the Cathedral this week with a diary full of meetings and a ‘To Do List’ as long as my arm.  What had happened to rob me of the ‘silly’ space that I was expecting?


One of my holiday snaps from this year

The problem was that the weather, which should be silly, became serious as records were being broken, forests were on fire, lives and livelihoods threatened and it looked and felt as though global warming had arrived.  Brexit, which has all the elements of silliness, is also now too serious to joke about.  The Prime Minister was forced to cut short her holiday and invade the holiday home of the French Prime Minister, making him get dressed up to meet her and dragging him away from the pool.  And Boris Johnson who, really, is very silly, became simply offensive.  There is no escaping the reality of life it seems this year.

One of the treats that we used to have as kids when we went for our week by the sea whether that was Cromer or Torquay or Shanklin was to be treated to a summer special version of our favourite comic.  Those great newsagents that used to occupy the fronts of all our seaside towns, the ones stocked with comics for the kids and extra thick editions of the ‘Woman’s Weekly’ with lots of extra knitting patterns for mum to attempt on the beach, which had buckets and spades in bright colours, moulds to make your sandcastles with, little windmills and a pack of flags (no EU flag amongst them in those days) to decorate them with and of course a counter full of sweets and rock and a fridge with a choc-ice for mum and an orange lolly for the kids, would be a treasure-trove for the whole of the week.  It was lovely.

Those summer special comics had your favourite characters – Minnie the Minx, Desperate Dan, all the rest – getting up to extra silly summer related things – lots of trouble and lots of telling off by parents and policemen.

It was another world.

So I am delighted that in the midst of unstoppable fires, searing heat, Brexit and burkas we at Southwark Cathedral have been able to bring a little bit of joy to millions of people around the world.  Yes, Doorkins has gone viral!  We had a message from a HuffPost journalist on Friday.  ‘Why had Doorkins suddenly entered the news?’ Well for no real reason apart from that a BBC journalist asked to come along with a  cameraman to do a piece on her that might be useful on a slow news day.  The piece was first posted online and then broadcast and the interest in the Cathedral cat exploded.  She is now big in Japan and across South America.  Her Twitter followers have increased exponentially. The book about her is no longer available on Amazon and our visitor numbers at the Cathedral have shot up.  Everyone, so it seems, wants to see this cute little cat.

southwark-may-10th-17-45-doorkins (1)

Not so silly cat

So is Doorkins all that is left of the silly season this year? Well perhaps even she can’t simply be categorized as just silly.  The thing that seems to have captured people’s imagination is her story.  The newspaper’s have all accurately quoted me when I said

“I hope that when in the future people see the corbel of Doorkins and ask “Why on earth is a cat here?” somebody will be around to tell the story of a little lonely stray cat who wondered into a church and found herself at home. And maybe they’ll wander in and find themselves at home as well.”

That is the non-silly news.  It’s all about the radical hospitality of God, who made space for animals, two-by-two, when judgment was passed on humanity and who welcomes each and every one of us into the house and to the table.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ (Hebrews 13.2)

I’m not suggesting that Doorkins is an angel, she’s a cat! But angels are principally messengers and our Doorkins is an eloquent messenger, reminding us that each of us has a place in God’s house.  It may sound a bit silly, but it’s true.

God of hospitality,
as you welcome the least to the greatest
may we reflect your generous love
with open hearts and open arms.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark