On this day in the year 565 AD Saint Columba, an Irish Abbot, may have had the first recorded encounter with the Loch Ness Monster. The account appears in a collection of manuscripts called Vita Columbae (The Life of Columba) which was written around a century after his death. They are written in the style of a hagiography, which is a collection of stories about the life of a saint and the miracles attributed to them before and after their deaths. This would be sent to Rome for the approval, or not, of the Pope. Hagiographies are packed with wild claims and are generally the source material for all my posts about saints. Vita Columbae, as well as being about the life of the saint also contains a wealth of information about life in Scotland during this period.
There are three books about the life of Saint Columba. The second book is about his miracles and chapter 28 is called: How an aquatic monster was driven off by virtue of the blessed man’s prayer. Columba was about to cross the River Ness when he came upon a group of Picts burying a man. The man had been swimming in the river when a monster that lived in the water had bitten him. His friends had tried to save him by rowing out in a boat and trying pull him away with a hook, but it had been too late. Columba was unfazed though. He asked one of his companions to swim across the river and fetch a boat that was moored to the opposite bank. The man, whose name was Lugne, got undressed and leapt into the water. The monster, who was lying at the bottom of the stream, was still hungry and rose out of the water with an awful roar and darted after the swimmer with it’s jaws open. Everyone was terrified except Columba. He raised his hand and invoked the name of God and said to the creature: Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed. When it heard him it immediately retreated more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes… Everyone was relieved to see the man safe and rowing back in the boat. They all gave thanks to the God of the Christians. Even the ‘barbarous heathens’.
Amongst the other chapters in Vita Columbae are stories called: Of the inkhorn, awkwardly spilled. Of a lump of salt blessed by the Saint which could not be consumed by fire and Of the driving out of a demon that lurked in a milk-pail. I haven’t had time to read any of them, but they sound fascinating. I have had time to make my own demon lurking in a milk pail though. Here is my Monster in Milk. If you want to make one you’ll need a glass of milk, a banana, sunflower seeds and a couple of currents or something for eyes.