The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, June 9, 2008

St. Columba and Friend

Today is the feast day of St. Columba, apostle to Scotland. When I was in college, I took a course in medieval literature, in which we read (among many others) The Age of Bede, in which I learned that St. Columba, among many other challenges in Scotland, ran across Nessie:
[St. Columba, encountering Nessie about to devour a swimming Pict(!)] 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 had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.
(Adamnan, Life of St. Columba, ch. 28).

How do you not love a saint who encounters a Great Myth (apparently in an unusually ferocious mood; Nessie is usually described as shy), rescues its victim, and then doesn't feel the need to kill the dragon? I'm reminded of Robertson Davies' book World of Wonders, where it's suggested that the best saints do not kill the dragons they encounter, but rather domesticate them--meaning, of course, that they don't kill off their shadow sides, but confront them, master them, and come to terms with them, even accept them.

As, in a way, did St. Columba.

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