Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas of the Cats – Akrotiri, Cyprus - Atlas Obscura

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Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas of the Cats

Akrotiri, Cyprus

For nearly 2,000 years this church has been waging war on local snakes by importing cats. 


When a plague of snakes almost prevented the building of what is now known as the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats, the titular felines were shipped in to save the day. 

Construction originally began on the monastery in 327 on the island of Cyprus under the patronage of Saint Helena. As legend has it, a terrible drought afflicted the island during this time, allowing venomous snakes to proliferate, driving off not only the builders of the monastery, but even island locals.

Helena’s solution to the infestation was to fight snakes with cats, and she had 1,000 of the furry killers shipped to the island from Persia and Egypt. Soon the savior had trained the felines to react to two bells: one signaling feeding time, and the other signaling snake hunting time. After battles that reportedly left the cats missing eyes and noses, the snakes were all but eradicated from the island and the monastery was completed.

Although the original building was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times over the ensuing centuries, the cats on the island remained, and even flourished into an unofficial sub-breed known as the “Cyprus cat.” When the modern incarnation of the monastery was given over to a group of nuns in 1983, the church grounds themselves had become devoid of cats, and the snakes had returned. Unsurprisingly, the sisters took a page from history and brought in even more outside cats which quickly contained the problem.

In addition to the newly imported animals, the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats began taking in any stray cat brought to them in honor of the felines’ centuries of service. 

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