The Ascension or Tenth Life

It was within the first several months of taxidermy training that I could not resist this tabby cat… um… scattered on the road. I had no idea it had no salvageable face nor skull, and no one was more surprised than I at the “spider web” of sewing that finally holds its body together. Yet she seemed destined to crown this circa late 1800s Catholic Last Rites Kit as her Tenth Life in perpetuity. Little did I know as I worked on this elegant assemblage, I would be diagnosed with my own last rites, Stage 4 Terminal Lung Cancer. Life imitating art.

The Last Rites or Extreme Unction is the final catholic sacrament for cleansing one of their sins before they leave earth. As Catholics believe in judgement after death, they want to leave this life as clean souls free from sin. This practice, then, protects the recipient on their journey to the afterlife. The Last Rites specifically refers to 3 sacraments: Confession, the Anointing of the Sick, and Final Holy Communion.

The Sick Call Set or Last Rites Kit found in catholic homes in the late 1800s and early 1900s held a collection of objects used by a priest to administer the Sacrament of Last Rites to a seriously ill or dying person. A family could simply have a box of supplies in a drawer, but manufacturers realized that sets could be created that not only served the practical purpose of storing such items for their ultimate purpose, but could also be decorative, devotional pieces themselves, such as this ornate shadow box which would have been mounted recessed into the bedroom wall.

  • Catholic last rites kit circa late 1800’s
  • Smelling salts, circa 1910
  • Rosary, Vatican, Rome, Italy
  • Tabby cat

The Taxidermist
Marcia Field