by Peter Menkin
I was talking to my cat, Tascha recently. She is mostly Russian Blue, and though the breed is pretty much mum, that is they don’t speak much, she has recently been saying meow meow. What I was telling her that piqued her interest is how it is rumored that there is a cat buried at San Francisco’s Episcopal Grace Cathedral. This writer wonders how the cat got there, and who the owner was.
My cat is not necessarily gullible, nor is she without some sense of curiosity tinged by doubts and wonderings. It is that the idea of such a resting place for an unknown and hidden-somewhere-in-the-Cathedral buried-cat is a hope she holds and wants to say has already turned true.
I took the task of inquiring if this hope and expectation held by probably more than one cat lover and cat, as urban legend, bore a reality of fact. In fact, it turned out that an email sent in 2010 came back from the archivist of Grace Cathedral and read in part:
Dear Mr. Menkin,
Sebastian, a beloved Siamese cat of the late Grace Cathedral verger, Charles Agneau (1922-1998), is indeed buried in a secret location in Grace Cathedral…
Archivist, Grace Cathedral
In an article sent to me, Michael Lampen (archivist of the cathedral) writes of the cat’s owner:
Charles Agneau’s legacy is multi-faceted. A twelve-hour oral history that he taped with the cathedral archivist in 1988 awaits transcription. A more visible legacy is the cathedral clock, high up on the south wall of the south tower, which Charles gave as a memorial to his parents in 1983. He also donated a new ceremonial verge, and left a legacy for maintenance of the cathedral organ. Another relic, hidden in a secret location in the Cathedral, is the grave of his beloved Siamese cat, Sebastian. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the example set by his commitment to, and love of, his work as cathedral verger, and his wise advice to his successors.
He was born in Chicago, “… [An] ex-Navy seaman, bookkeeper, hospital orderly, and hotel clerk had been assisting as an acolyte at cathedral services since 1947. Charles Agneau visited Grace Cathedral during the war in 1942, “…had tried his vocation at Holy Cross Monastery in New York, and had spent time as assistant curate in a London parish, so his Anglican roots were deep.” The Grace Cathedral archivist reports in his article about the Verger, he served three cathedral deans and four diocesan bishops.
This near legendary Verger served a long time, as it is written:
Charles was verger during the Bishop Pike years (1958-1966), which included the historic cathedral completion (1961-1964), and were followed by the turbulent 1970s. Following a stroke in 1980, he had to cut back on his work. At his retirement in 1982, Charles was made Verger Emeritus and remained to assist his successors, including the cathedral’s first woman verger- Lori Lamma, and to advise later vergers- including today’s Charles Shipley.
What of his cat, who is an urban legend unto his cat-self. Sebastian is waiting as part of the decades and even the centuries for his maker, probably year by year ears coming alert in death as on St. Francis Day there is the blessing of the animals.
This article appeared originally in Church of England Newspaper, London.