Sacred Cat Rug - Atlas Obscura

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Sacred Cat Rug

Villa Zorayda Museum

Possibly the world's oldest rug, this Egyptian relic is woven entirely from ancient cat hair and once carried a mummified human foot. 


Of all the oddities in St. Augustine, Florida, the Moorish, Alhambra Palace-inspired Villa Zorayda Museum may possess the oddest.

Built in 1883 by a millionaire merchant, the eccentric residence was sold in 1913 to Abraham S. Mussallem, an avid collector who expanded the museum’s assemblage of rare and historic artifacts that came with the unusual house. As an expert in both oriental rugs and Egyptian relics, Mussallem came into possession of an unusual find, a mummified human foot wrapped inside a rug, which was taken from a pyramid or other archaeological site.

Even more fascinating than the mummified foot was the rug itself, which depicts a large stylized feline, much like the African wild cat. Mussallem determined the textile to be over 2,400 years old, making it, arguably, the oldest rug in the world. (There are Persian rugs that also claim that distinction).

Oldest or not, an examination of the rug confirmed that it is woven entirely from cat hair. But what would a stolen Egyptian rug containing human remains be without a curse? Sure enough, it’s said that anyone who sets foot carelessly on the rug will die shortly thereafter. While no human being has stepped on it in recent memory, during the last restoration of the rug, a dead cat is rumored to have been found stretched out on the front steps of the museum.

Fortunately the rug now hangs on the wall of a special room on the second floor, where no hapless tourist can walk on it. It is displayed proudly behind its original contents, the mummified foot.

Know Before You Go

The museum is in St. Augustine, across the street from Flagler College. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Sunday from 11am to 4pm (closed on major holidays). There are self-guided audio tours in English, Spanish, and French, and admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids 7 to 12, and free for kids 6 and under. See the website for discount, docent, and group tour information. The Sacred Cat Rug and its mummified foot are on the second floor.

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