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A photo of the sacred cat rug.

Strange Tale of the 2,400-Year-Old Cursed Cat Fur Rug and the Mummified Appendage


A museum in St. Augustine, Florid has a rather unusual artifact – an ancient rug made completely out of cat fur. This rug is sometimes referred to as the ‘Sacred Cat Rug’ and has a claim on the title of ‘Oldest Rug in the World’. Whilst this ancient rug is an intriguing object in its own right, the museum in which it is being kept today, the Villa Zorayda Museum, has its own fascinating story to tell.

The ancient history of this cat hair rug is, unfortunately, unknown to us, as this artifact was quite likely to have been purchased from treasure hunters. It is common knowledge that the rug came from Egypt, but the specific location where it was found is unidentified. It is also not known today whether this ancient cat hair rug came from a tomb (if so, whose?), or some other archaeological context.

Villa Zorayda, St. Augustine, Florida. (Dan Lundberg/CC BY SA 2.0) The cat hair rug is held in this museum’s collection.

Villa Zorayda, St. Augustine, Florida. (Dan Lundberg/ CC BY SA 2.0 ) The cat hair rug is held in this museum’s collection.

A Cursed Rug

We do know, however, that the rug was made entirely out of cat fur. In addition, we may observe that there is a large stylized feline, said to resemble an African wild cat, depicted in the middle of the rug. It is also recorded that when it was sold in 1913, the rug had a mummified human foot wrapped inside it. The relationship between this mummified foot and the cat hair rug is uncertain, though.

African wild cat. (Leonemanuel/CC BY SA 4.0)

African wild cat. (Leonemanuel/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

To spice things up even more, there is even a curse attached to this ancient rug. It is alleged that anyone careless enough to step on this rug would die shortly after. Whilst it is unknown if this curse is true, there is a rumor that when the rug was last restored, a dead cat was found stretched out on the front steps of the museum.

Lastly, according to the man who obtained the rug, it is over 2400 years old, making it possibly the oldest rug in the world. Another claimant to this title, incidentally, is the Pazyryk Carpet from Siberia, Russia, which has been dated to the 5th century BC. 

Pazyryk Carpet. (Public Domain) The world's oldest known pile carpet was found in the largest of the Pazyryk burial mounds, Altay mountains. It is exhibited in the Hermitage Museum Saint Petersburg.

Pazyryk Carpet. ( Public Domain ) The world's oldest known pile carpet was found in the largest of the Pazyryk burial mounds, Altay mountains. It is exhibited in the Hermitage Museum Saint Petersburg.

The Museum’s Story

The history behind the museum holding the cat hair rug is a fascinating tale in its own right. Its name, Villa Zorayda is said to be taken from Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra , Zorayda being the name of one of the princesses. The man behind the construction of this peculiar house was Franklin Waldo Smith, an amateur architect. In 1882, Smith was in Spain, when he decided to build a winter home back in St. Augustine. He drew inspiration for the design of this structure from the famous Alhambra, the Moorish palace and fortress complex in Granada.

The whole Alhambra, as seen from the mirador San Nicolas, Granada, Spain. (CC0)

The whole Alhambra, as seen from the mirador San Nicolas, Granada, Spain. ( CC0)

Smith faced a dilemma with regards to the building material of his winter home. Although he intended to have it built of stone, this material was hard to come by in Florida, and to have it freighted from the north would be too costly. This dilemma was solved by the production of concrete blocks made of coquina, sand, and Portland cement. This was a new building material created as a result of experiments conducted by Smith and a mason from Boston. Thus, the Villa Zorayda was built in 1883, and holds the honor of being the second house in the United States to be made of poured concrete.

The Villa Zorayda is a replica wing of the Alhambra, though at 1/10th the size of the actual wing. This structure played an important part in the architectural history of St. Augustine, as it began the Moorish Spanish Revival style of architecture there. In 1904, the Villa Zorayda was leased out and was transformed into the Zorayda Club. In 1913, the building and part of Smith’s antiquity collection, were sold to Abraham S. Mussallem, an expert on Oriental rugs and Egyptian artifacts. It was Mussallem who purchased the ancient cat hair rug.

During the 1930s, the Villa Zorayda became the Villa Zorayda Museum, which displayed Smith’s and Mussallem’s collections. The museum was closed between 2000 and 2008, as an extensive renovation was being carried out. The Villa Zorayda Museum has since been reopened to the public, and those wishing to see the unique cat hair rug can do so on the second floor, where it is hung on the wall of a special room, behind the mummified foot which it once wrapped.

Top Image: A photo of the sacred cat rug. Source: Why Evolution Is True

By Wu Mingren


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Available at: https://villazorayda.com/

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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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