Herodotus told of a festival held annually at the delta city of Bubastis in honor of the goddess Bastet. His account was widely believed to be a fabrication until archaeologists discovered evidence to confirm that the event did take place. Daughter of the sun god Re and mother of the moon god Khonsu, the feline deity Bastet was widely venerated throughout ancient Egypt. By the late Period, the Bastet Festival, held in April and May, was one of the most popular in the ritual calendar. For ceremonial purposes the town of Bubastis, 50 miles Northeast of modern Cairo, was best approached by water.
“They come in barges.” wrote the ancient Greek historian Herodotus of the festival, “men and women together, a great number in each boat, on the way, some of the women keep up a continual clatter with castanets and some of the men play flutes, while the rest, both men and women, sing and clap their hands. Whenever they pass a town on the River Bank, they bring the barge close inshore, some of the women continuing to act as I have said, While others shout abuse at the women of the place, or start dancing, or stand up and hitch their skirts. When they reach Bubastis, they celebrate the festival with elaborate sacrifices, and more wine is consumed then during all of the rest of the year.”
Herodotus recorded at least 700,000 people, “excluding children”, arriving in similar fashion to pay their respects at the red granite temple erected in honor of the goddess. Again, according to Herodotus, “Cats which have died are taken to Bubastis where they are embalmed and buried in sacred receptacles. Thousands of the dead creatures were mummified and interred in underground galleries here and at other sites so that they might carry their owners’ messages all the more swiftly to the realm of the gods.
The sheer scale of the festival seemed Incredible to early Egyptologists, but in 1887 a Swiss archaeologists called Henri Edouard Naville, excavating the site, discovered that Herodotus had indeed spoken the truth. He uncovered the site of Bubastis’s main temple, the catacombs of mummified cats, and a number a number of pharaonic shrines which proved that even the highest born venerated Bastet.