22 August 2011

22 August - Saint Columba and the River Ness Monster

First, a gentle caveat here: One of those websites which list events for "This Day In...." states that today is the day that Saint Columba saw what people now call the "Loch Ness Monster".  How that website determined this is not yet known.  I have found (in a cursory search) that a few more websites also declare this - and yes, I could ask them where they found that information, but I'm afraid it would be the same answer I get from people who copy erroneous family-trees and post them to the Internet: "Ima Idiot posted it, and she wouldn't post it on the Internet if it wasn't true!"


However, since the story mentions swimming, August is as good a month as any - and better than most - so why not celebrate today one of the earliest recorded sightings of something mysterious in those northern Scottish waters.

This is the account as written by St. Adomnan, the abbot of Columba's monastery of Iona, about 100 years after the story took place.  It comes from Chapter 28 of the Life of St. Columba (Vita Columbae), as translated by William Reeves, which you can read at CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts (and please note that it is the River Ness, not the Loch):


ON another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. 

Well, not having quite the same faith as Lugne Mocumin, I would be after suggesting that if the good saint wanted that coble (boat) so bad, HE could go swimming with the man-eating monster!

But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, ‘Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.’ 

Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.

This has been taken to suggest that whatever occasionally surfaces in Loch Ness has been around for a goodly amount of time.

For today's celebration, I can find nothing that will beat the NESSIE CAKE.  Any recipe for which the first ingredient is a bottle of whisky has to be good.  And I would say that putting together this cake should raise all kinds of monsters, on the Loch, in the River, or in your own kitchen.