Wednesday, 12 January 2011

I've been sick with bronchitis for a few weeks, and the advantage of that is that eventually I give up and sit on the couch and read. In Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings I came across mention of a mermaid saint and a google search uncovered this:

And then there's St. Murgen of Inver Ollarba, who garners a mention in the seventeenth-century Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland. Her legend is possibly the most bizarre in hagiography, surpassing even St. Christopher of the Dog's Head, St. James the Cut to Pieces or St. George of Cappadocia with his four separate martyrdoms. Murgen began life as a girl named Liban, whose background is lost in a muddle of folkloric confusion. She seems to have been either of mortal or of Daoine Sidhe parentage, and swept into the sea in the year 90 with her dog, who was transformed into an otter. At some point during her first year underwater, she was turned into a merrow or muirruhgach, the Gaelic word for siren or mermaid. She spent three hundred years with the tail of a salmon, swimming the Irish sea with her pet otter.

Around 390 (or possibly 558), a ship destined for Rome took her in from the seas, having heard her angelic singing. The cleric Beoc, a vicar of Bishop St. Comgall of Bangor, was on board, and she pleaded him to take her ashore at Inver Ollarba up the coast. On his return from Rome, after reporting to Pope Gregory of Comgall's deeds in office, he fulfilled his promise and Liban was taken ashore in a boat half-filled with water by another fellow, Beorn.

Instantly, a dispute started over who had authority over her with Beoc, Beorn and St. Comgall all pressing their case. It fell to Beoc after they placed her in a tank of water on a chariot and the chariot stopped in front of Beoc's parish church. There, she was given the choice of being baptized, after which she would die immediately and go to heaven, or living another three hundred years--the number she had spent as a mermaid--and then going on to paradise. She chose the first, was baptized by St. Comgall with the name of Murgen, or, "sea-born," and died in the odor of sanctity. Of course, this was all in the days before canonizations became the exclusive and infallible province of Rome. That being said, the Teo-da-Beoc, or, church of Beoc, was the site of many miracles wrought in her name, and paintings of this singular saint still remain there to this day.

I wish I knew what to make of all this weirdness: the Bollandists would have a hernia over it. But, se non e vero, e ben trovato, and, suffice to say, I'd like to think that St. Comgall didn't just baptize some wayward manatee.


Gotta love it, no?!?!

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