The last few blog posts have been a bit on the heavy side, with all those boring “details” and “facts.” So, today I thought I’d present something more fun: The very first recorded appearance of the Loch Ness Monster in literature! The tale comes from the abbot St. Adamnan (or Adomnán) of Iona, who wrote a Life of St. Columba around 700 CE, recording the life and times of his relative, the sixth century Irish missionary monk St. Columba.
Adamnan devoted the second book of his Life to the miracle of Columba, which included such standard medieval fare as healing disease, exorcising demons, and raising the dead. As with many saints of the period, Columba also supposedly battled a lake monster, at Loch Ness. Such stories are spread far and wide in medieval lore, often on the template of St. George and Dragon. In that story (in turn borrowed from an earlier saint’s life), the dragon is associated with a spring. The saint-and-dragon motif was derived from (or at least parallel to) the still earlier Greek story of Perseus and Andromeda, in which the sea serpent rose up from the sea, and its Indo-European analogs in Germanic mythology.
Chapter 28 records Columba’s alleged encounter with the lake monster, and this almost certainly mythic event formed the kernel of the Loch Ness monster legend.
The Earliest Loch Ness Monster
How an Aquatic Monster was driven off by virtue of the blessed man's prayer.
Adamnan, Life of St. Columba 2.28
translated by the Bishop of Brechin and others, 1874
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. 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.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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