Jólakötturinn – the Icelandic Yule Cat

My illustration is based on Icelandic accounts of Jólakötturinn, the Yule (Jól) Cat (köttur) – a monstrous feline with razor whiskers, blazing eyes and terrible claws.

The oldest written sources on the Yule Cat come from the 19th century. They  mention those who do not get a new item of clothing for Yule were destined to become offerings for the Yule Cat. Farm workers needed to finish processing autumn wool before xmas. Those who took part in production would be rewarded with new clothes, but those who did not got nothing. And the scare story of a big, mean kitty out to get lazy workers provided a good incentive.

The tale of the Yule Cat became popularised after the publication of the Icelandic Yule poems written by Jóhannes úr Kötlum in 1932. Here the monstrous feline prowled the streets looking into people’s houses. Women had to spin new xmas clothes for their children or Jólakötturinn would come and sweep them away.

Happy Halloween

Halloween 2019

Bring forth the raisins and the nuts –
To-night All Hallows’ Spectre struts
Along the moonlit way.
No time is this for tear or sob
Or other woes our joys to rob
But time for Pippin and for Bob
And Jack-o’-lantern gay.

— excerpt from the poem ‘Halloween’
by John Kendrick Bangs (1862–1922)

St Jadwiga’s feast day and footprint

St Jadwiga (1373/4 – 17 July 1399) was the first female monarch of the Kingdom of Poland, reigning from 1384 until her death. Her feast day is 17 July.

She was born in Buda, the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary circa 1373 or 1374. The 10 year old Jadwiga was crowned in Poland’s capital, Kraków, on the 16th of October 1384 after many political intrigues.

During her reign she established new hospitals, schools and churches, as well as restoring established ones. Jadwiga promoted the use of vernacular in church services, especially singing hymns in Polish, and had scriptures translated into Polish.

She gave birth to Elizabeth Bonifacia who died 3 weeks old on the 13th of July 1399. A few days later Jadwiga died on 17th July 1399 (aged 25) in Kraków. Jadwiga and her daughter were buried together in Wawel Cathedral on the 24th of August 1399.

Jadwiga was venerated in Poland soon after her death and legends grew about the miracles she performed. One wonderful tale features her footprint that is set into the external wall of of the Church of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also known as the Church Na Piasku), Kraków, Poland. According to legend the Queen stepped on a stone while handing a gold clasp from her slipper to a stone mason, who desperately needed assistance for his ill wife. When she left, he noticed her footprint in the plaster floor of his workplace, even though the plaster had already hardened before her visit.

In 1997 she was canonised by the Roman Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II.

View St Jadwiga’s footprint in 3D at sketchfab

St Mildith’s Feast Day

St Mildred

St Mildrith (Mildred) was the abbess of Minster in the Isle of Thanet, Kent during the 7th century AD. Her feast day is 13th July. My illustration features garments based on the Kentish style of Anglo-Saxon costume. She is traditionally depicted accompanied with a hind.

Mildred’s mother was St Ermenburga, who was the aunt of King Egbert. Ermenburga’s younger brothers, Ethelred and Ethelbright, were murdered by Thunor, one of Egbert’s men. In compensation, wergild, for their deaths Ermenburga received land in Minster for the building of a monastery. The extent of land ceded by Egbert was determined by the area in which Ermenburga’s pet hind could run around – about 1000 acres.

Ermenburga was the first abbess of the new monastery сirca AD 670 and then its charge was handed over to Mildred.

The abbey buildings at Minster were destroyed during the dissolution of monasteries in the time of Henry VIII. In 1937 a small group of Benedictine nuns from St Walburga’s Abbey at Eichstadt, Germany purchased the abbey remains and ге-established a new nunnery. They also installed a relic of St Mildred into the altar of a newly-build private chapel.

St Everlida’s Feast Day

St Everilda

St Everlida (Eoforhild, Everild, Everlidis, Averil) died about AD 700 and her feast day is the 9th of July.

Not much is know about this mysterious saint and I followed personal inspiration for my illustration above.

What we know comes from the liturgical book known as the York Breviary. It tells us she came from a Wessex noble family. She headed north with Bega and Wulfreda (who also became saints) to become a nun. Wilfird, the Bishop of York bequeathed the gift of land at the Bishops’s Farm near York where Everlida established a nunnery, later know as Everlidisham. The nunnery apparently became a large community of about 80 women. The present-day location of Everlidisham is uncertain and could be at Everingham (East Yorkshire) or Nether Poppleton (North Yorkshire), as both have churches bearing her name.

St Everlida Nether Poppleton

St Everilda’s Church, Nether Poppleton, Yorkshire

St Merewenna’s Feast Day

St Merewenna

St Merewenna (Merwenna, Merwinna) was an early Abbess of Romsey, who died circa 970 AD. Her translation is October 23. Merewenna’s original feast day was 18 February but now is 13 May.

Romsey Abbey was founded by King Edward the Elder in 907 for his daughter, Princess Aelflaed (d. 959). who became the first Abbess of Romsey. The Abbey in the late 10th century came under the Benedictine Rule by King Edgar the Peacable (967). An Irish noblewoman named Merewenna was made Abbess and she was given charge of the queen’s young step-daughter, Aethelflaed (St Elfleda). Princess St Aethelflaed succeeded Merewenna and became the next Abbess of Romsey, (d. 995). Shortly afterwards, Hampshire was overrun by the Danes. The Saxon Abbey was destroyed by Sweyn Forkbeard and his followers during a raid in 994. The nuns, forewarned by divine intervention, fled and took refuge at Nunnaminster in Winchester.


Romsey Abbey today

Discoveries in 1900, and archaeological excavations undertaken in 1975 and 1979, have revealed much about the early monastic buildings at Romsey. For more information visit


St Hilda and snakestone ammonites

St Hilda (614–680 AD) was the daughter of Hereric and Breguswith and the great niece of Edwin, King of Northumbria (616–633 AD). In 657 AD, Hilda came to Whitby, North Yorkshire to administer the abbey. As the abbess of Whitby, she managed one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world. Today her known feast days are commemorated on the 17th, 18th or 19th of November.

My illustration above was inspired by Hilda’s associations with the ammonite fossils found in the cliffs of Whitby. The legend goes she cast out the serpents in Whitby in order to clear the ground for a new convent. In response to her devout praying the snakes coiled up, turned to stone and fell off the edge of the cliffs after she cut off their heads with a whip. A 15th-century Latin manuscript found in the Durham University library indicates this ammonite legend goes back to at least late medieval times.

Ammonites collected from the cliffs of Whitby were reshaped with snake heads and examples of these snakestones are found in the Whitby Museum (see above). Moreover, Victorian geologists named one of the local species after her – Ammonite hildroceras.

The Whitby town coat of arms features three coiled serpents and they are also depicted underfoot in the stela sculpture of St Hilda found on the cross erected in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church high on the cliffs near the remains of the abbey. You can click to view a 3D model of the stela below.