JONAH AND SWIMMING CAT
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Ammittai, saying,
Arise, go to Nin’eveh that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
15 So they look up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
When searching for the information, relating to Van Cats, Lake Van and Akhtamar island, I found a picture of some relief, which was named “the image of Van Cat on the wall of an Armenian church”. Then I found out that this image was on the wall of the Church of the Holly Cross on Akhtamar Island. And the only explanation of the relieves on the walls of the Church of the Holly Cross was related to the legend that the images on the church were the animals that were taken into Noah's ark. I could not find any other explanation of the images. I was rather surprised with such an interpretation of the idea of the construction, created by great medieval Armenian architect Manuel. Only for this reason I decided to write about the relieves, as I am not an expert in architecture or art. I just think that it is time to publish it in Internet.
The reliefes on the walls show the stories of the Bible. There are scenes of the various books of the prophets, the images of Abraham, Jesus Christ, angels, Daniel, as well as the image of Gagik Artsruni, who ordered to build the church. The fragment that attracted my attention is the scene of the Book of Jonah. There are images of the king of Nin'eveh, the storm on the sea and the scene that is of the most interest for those, who were sure it was the image of Van Cat, where Jonah is shown, when the fish swallowed up Jonah. There are two images of the fish: one, where the fish came up near the ship, and the other, when it opened the mouth and Jonah went out. I learnt that the Bible was translated into Armenian from Greek translation of the Bible. In other translation versions Jonah was swallowed by a whale. We may guess that the artist had never seen a whale. For this reason he cut it like some mythical monster that was swimming in the sea. As the Van Cat swimming in the lake was very unusual, the monster was fancied with the head of Van Cat. I found this information in a book on Armenian medieval architecture and fine arts. The pics, published in this book were taken at the end of 19th or the beginning of the 20th century.
I tried to find other images of cats on the walls of other Armenian churches, but failed. There are many relieves of lions, but no cats. Thus, this relief is rather unique for Armenian medieval art. At the same time I guess that there was to be an Armenian worship of a white cat in lake Van area in heathendom period. And I guess a white cat should accompany Astghik (that means a “little star”, “starlet"), who was an Armenian goddess of virgin beauty, medicine and hunting. You may compare her name with goddess Astarta.