Much loved Southwark Cathedral cat Doorkins Magnificat laid to rest

She started out as a street cat, stealing scraps from market traders. Then, 12 years ago, the small tabby made her home in Southwark Cathedral where she reached celebrity status: meeting the Queen, starring in a children’s book and having her own social media accounts.

The extraordinary journey of Doorkins Magnificat from mangy moggie to cherished feline ended on Wednesday, a month after her death, when a thanksgiving service was held under the cathedral’s Gothic arches before she was laid to rest in the churchyard.

It was an unusual occasion, Andrew Nunn, the dean, told the congregation. “In more normal times, we often host memorial services for the great and the good. But I don’t think there’s ever been a service for a cat.”

Paul Timms, the head verger with the ashes of Magnificat Doorkins, in the churchyard of Southwark Cathedral. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Not everyone approved. There had been a bit of a Twitter storm, Nunn said later – not least from some of his own colleagues.

“Is this a joke?” tweeted Philip North, the bishop of Burnley. “I do hope so. If not it’s grossly insensitive to bereaved families and those ministering to them in the NW under the regional coronavirus restrictions.”

But, said Nunn, the story of Doorkins’ life had meaning beyond the simple narrative of a cat finding a new home. She had sought and found sanctuary in a church. “She arrived, she entered and we made her welcome. People concluded that if this little cat is welcome, maybe I am too,” Nunn said.

Doorkins arrived at Southwark Cathedral in 2008, a hungry stray in search of a bowl of food and a stroke. The vergers, who open the cathedral doors each morning, obliged with both.

Soon Doorkins was making herself at home with a series of favoured spots: next to a warm pipe beneath the stone seats of the chancel, on a cushion in the consistory court, stretched across a grate wafting hot air into the cathedral’s vast interior. Each Christmas, she snoozed in the straw of the cathedral’s nativity scene.

She had no truck with status or occasion. The bishop was regarded with disdain. She indulged in long, intimate washes during solemn prayers; she sauntered through the nave at Evensong. When the Queen visited, she opened her eyes a fraction, assessed the significance of the occasion, and went back to sleep.

Doorkins captured the hearts of the clergy, congregation, visiting dignitaries and tourists. But she never quite shed her feral instincts. “No way was she a lap cat. She could be nice at moments but only on her own terms, and she could lash out when she’d had enough. She set the pace in every relationship,” said Nunn.

In a smart commercial move, the cathedral developed a range of Doorkins Magnificat merchandising: greetings cards, mugs, mouse mats, fridge magnets. Three years ago, Doorkins featured in a children’s picture book. By then, she already had her own Twitter account with more than 6,000 followers.

Paul Timms, head verger, reading his memories of Doorkins, during the service of thanksgiving. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

It was a contented life. But Doorkins did not escape the trauma of the London Bridge terror attack in June 2017, when the cathedral was locked down for several days. As usual, she had been put out for the night, and there was no way back through locked doors and armed police.

“When we eventually got back into the cathedral, she ran in and wouldn’t go out again,” said Nunn. Soon after, her health began to fail, with kidney problems, loss of hearing and eventually blindness.

Paul Timms, the head verger, took her home to care for her. Following a stroke, she died in his arms on 30 September.

In line with Covid regulations, a maximum of 30 people were permitted to attend Wednesday’s service, though it was streamed for Doorkins’ many admirers. Timms carried her ashes in a wooden casket to a small grave beside a wall separating the peace of the cathedral gardens from the bustle of Borough Market.

Nunn, who confessed he was “not a cat person usually”, said Doorkins had been “a godsend”. He added: “She did more to bring people to this place than I will ever do.”