Cats in History
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Meet St. James the Greater, the Patron Saint of Vets

St. James may have had no connection to animal care, but you might still want to appeal to him.

 |  Jul 25th 2013  |   1 Contribution


Just last week I had to take my foster kitten, Sterling, who was rescued with a self-healed compound fracture, to my veterinarian for an amputation. The next day my 17-year-old Tonkinese, Nixie, went to the veterinary ophthalmologist for a potentially life-threatening condition, a dilated pupil. For me, neither of these situations were routine. 

When my vets perform complicated procedures or make potentially life-altering diagnoses, I always ask for a little backup from an advocate. In this case the influential contact is James the Greater. St. James was one of the disciples and a patron saint of veterinarians.

Rembrandt's portrait of St. James the Greater.

Whether by divine intervention or old-fashioned good fortune, Sterling’s amputation was a textbook affair. It’s only her second day home, and she’s hopping around like an Olympian on her remaining three legs. 

I learned from my board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, Robert Munger, that Nixie, whose photos once graced magazines and newsletter covers, suffers from iris atrophy. Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? When other outcomes could have been stroke, brain tumor, cyst, glaucoma, or a host of other painful or life-ending conditions, a weakening of the muscle that controls the iris sounds pretty good.

So did St. James help the outcome? I don’t know. Asking for intercession helped me feel proactive in situations that would have otherwise left me powerless. I do know I felt better.

My cat, Nixie, celebrated her 17th birthday recently. I asked St. James the Greater to help with her health issues.

As with many saints, James is the patron saint of many diverse groups, including the countries of Spain, Italy, Chile, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, as well as cities across the globe. He’s also the patron saint of arthritis or rheumatism sufferers, pharmacists, equestrians, knights, blacksmiths, farriers, laborers, pilgrims, and hat makers.

So how did he earn his patronage of veterinarians? We might assume that James had an animal-loving reputation. He must have fixed broken wings and delivered breech-born foals, right? If we assume this, however, we assume wrong. There’s no evidence that St. James had any connection to animal care. He was a fisherman before he joined up with Jesus.

James’ route to veterinary representation was as direct as going from Miami to San Diego via Spain. According to Sister Mary Martha, a nun in Marina Del Rey, CA, James the Greater was designated the patron saint of veterinarians because he was Spain’s patron saint, after which he became the patron saint of the Conquistadors. And since no self-respecting Conquistador would be caught vanquishing new lands on foot, he became the patron saint of equestrians. Horses needed blacksmiths and, when they’re sick or injured, veterinarians. 

James the Greater is also the patron saint of hatmakers. Man and cat in hat by Shutterstock

It’s even more of a stretch when you consider there’s no real evidence that James ever actually went to Spain, only some legends. But even if St. James the Greater never lived up to his implied reputation as an animal healer, it might be worth appealing to him for intervention or to guide your own vet through a difficult procedure. He does, after all, have friends in high places.

Read more about cats in history and beyond:

About the author: Author, adventuress, and cat rescuer Dusty Rainbolt is a feline behavior consultant and member of International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the author of Cat Wrangling Made Easy: Maintaining Peace and Sanity in Your Multicat Home (a book for frustrated people dealing with feline behavior problems), and Kittens For Dummies. Dusty is the product editor for Catnip, published by Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She writes the monthly feline advice columns Dear Hobbes and Ask Einstein. She also freelances for Cat Fancy and anyone else whose checks don't bounce. She is currently the vice president of the Cat Writers Association. Her latest book, the paranormal mystery Death Under the Crescent Moon, was released a few months ago.

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