On this day, August 22, 565, St. Columba is said to have encountered the Loch Ness Monster.
Columba, you may recall, was trained by Irish monks. However, his youthful Christianity was skin-deep while his passions were strong. He was partly responsible for the battle of Cul-drebene in which many men lost their lives. Repentant, he sailed to Britain as "a pilgrim for Christ" and founded the monastery of Iona, from which Christianity spread across North Britain. He himself traveled and preached, establishing several churches and monasteries.
Revered as a saint, his life was written by Adamnan. In reporting Columba's life, Adamnan gives what appears to be the first written account of the Loch Ness Monster.
Traveling in Scotland, Columba had to cross the Loch Ness. On its banks, he saw some of the Pict folk burying a man who had been bitten by a water monster while swimming. The body had been pulled from the loch with the aid of a hook by rescuers who had come to his assistance in a boat.
Despite the danger, Columba ordered one of his followers to swim across the loch and bring back a coble (boat) that was moored on the other side. This man's name was Lugne Mocumin. Without hesitation, Lugne stripped for the swim and plunged in.
The monster, robbed of its earlier feast, surfaced and darted at Lugne with a roar, its jaws open. Everyone on the bank was stupefied with terror; everyone, except Columba, that is. A firm believer in the authority of the crucified Christ, he raised his hand, making the sign of the cross. Invoking the name of God, he commanded the beast, saying, "You will go no further, and won't touch the man; go back at once."
At the voice of the saint, the monster fled as if terrified, "more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes," says Adamnan.
The heathen were amazed. Everyone who witnessed the sight gave glory to the God of the Christians.
Did the event really take place? A church historian may be permitted a few doubts.
To begin with, Adamnan's account was written over a hundred years after the alleged events.
Furthermore, different versions of the story disagree with one another. One has Columba raising the monster's first victim from the dead by laying his staff across his chest.
We also note that this is only one of many extraordinary events in Adamnan's account. According to him, Columba dripped with prophecies and predictions that came true. He made water into wine like Jesus, drew water from a rock like Moses, calmed a storm at sea, provided a miraculous draught of fishes, multiplied a herd of cattle, drove a demon out of a milk pail, and cured the sick. A book owned by Columba could not be destroyed by water. Through his prayers he killed a wild boar, stopped serpents from harming the inhabitants of a certain island. Angels and manifestations of divine light attended him throughout his life. Adamnan's account has so many incredible tales that it is unbelievable.
- Adamnan. "Life of St. Columba." Medieval Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/columba-e.html
- Edmonds, Columba. "St. Columba." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Vann, Joseph, editor. "St. Columba." Lives of Saints with Excerpts from their Writings. New York: John J. Crawley & Co., 1954.
Last updated June, 2007