When the Empress Helen founded the monastery of St Nicholas in the 4th century, she had no idea that this pleasant corner of Cyprus was plagued by venomous snakes.
THE monastery of St Nicholas of the Cats was founded on Cyprus by St Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, in the 4th century.
But the site on the Akrotiri peninsula was infested with venomous snakes, so much so that the local residents began to leave.
In a bold move, the island’s governor imported hundreds of cats from Egypt and the Holy Land, and for over a thousand years their scarred but indomitable descendants kept the snakes at bay.
When monks rang a little bell, the cats would come home for a meal. When it rang again, off they went to hunt snakes once more.
But when the Turks invaded in the late 16th century, they massacred the indigenous people of Cyprus, including the harmless monks, and the cats lost their home.
The cats were scattered, but the snakes remained; and when the monastery was rebuilt in 1983, the new community of nuns gathered a platoon of the fearsome little snake-hunters once again.
YouTube footage of the Monastery Cats
Below is a video of the cats of the monastery on Cyprus, running about and playing - a little break from the serious business of snakes.