Queen Helena the mother of Constantine the Great, can truly be considered the first Christian pilgrim to the Holy Land. In the year 326 and the age of 71, she set out for the Holy Land to discover the sites related to the life of Jesus. Arriving in Jerusalem she discovered – with the aid of a local Jewish guide – the remains of the true cross which she took back with her and donated it to various churches and monasteries. After two years in the Holy Land, she returned home – via Cyprus.
Cyprus was undergoing a severe three-year drought and together with it an explosion of venomous snakes. On arriving on the island Helena was approached by an order of nuns trying to build a nunnery near the shore, a short distance from modern Larnaca. Alas, the monastery could not be built because of the snakes. the 73-year-old queen-mother immediately proposed a solution – import a shipload of cats from the Holy Land. the cats will fight the snakes and the building could be established.
The Holy Land cats did the job and after a short while the cats had fought off all the snakes and the monastery was raised and consecrated as St. John of the Cats. The cats reported a traveler two centuries later, are still honored inhabitants of the monastery, as they are today.
Near the monastery, a few decades ago, a refuge for abandoned cats was set up – the Malcolm Cat Protection Sanctuary – with over 200 cats living with the best care these ex-pat English people in Cyprus can offer.
After talking about this story during a radio-interview I got a letter from a family who had just returned to Israel after a few years in Cyprus – with the beloved cat whom they got from the sanctuary. Little did we know, they wrote to me, that our feline family-member is not only making aliyah but returning to his ancestral home.