Written by The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark
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 Prayer 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 your good creation. Amen.