Monday, April 30, 2018

The Bones of a Dragon Killed by Saint Donatos in the Fourth Century

The following account was written concerning Saint Donatos (Apr. 30), a late fourth century bishop from Albania, by the fifth century historian Sozomen (Eccl. Hist., Bk. 7, Ch. 26):

"There were at this period many other bishops in various parts of the empire highly celebrated for their sanctity and high qualifications, of whom Donatos, Bishop of Euroea in Epirus, deserves to be particularly mentioned. The inhabitants of the country relate many extraordinary miracles which he performed, of which the most celebrated seems to have been the destruction of a dragon of enormous size. It had stationed itself on the high road, at a place called Chamaegephyrae and devoured sheep, goats, oxen, horses, and men. Donatos came upon this beast, attacked it unarmed, without sword, lance, or javelin; it raised its head, and was about to dash upon him, when Donatos made the sign of the cross with his finger in the air, and spat upon the dragon. The saliva entered its mouth, and it immediately expired. As it lay extended on the earth it did not appear inferior in size to the noted serpents of India. I have been informed that the people of the country yoked eight pair of oxen to transport the body to a neighboring field, where they burnt it, that it might not during the process of decomposition corrupt the air and generate disease... The inhabitants of Isoria, a village in the territory of Euroea, bear testimony to the truth of this narration."

Saint Donatos, known primarily for his miracles, died in 387 and his remains were transferred to Kassiopi in Corfu in 602 in order to be saved from barbarian invasions. However this led to a problem of jurisdiction and custody for the holy relics, which was resolved by Pope Gregory I. The relics of Saint Donatos, and most importantly the surviving enormous bones said to belong to the dragon slain by him, were brought to the Venetian island of Murano in 1125, and placed in the Santa Maria and San Donato Cathedral.

Today, the purported bones of this dragon are prominently displayed (despite the fact that the original remains were said to have been burnt in a fire). They hang on the wall behind the high altar of the church, near the relics of Saint Donatos. They are four large rib bones, hanging from wires. The bones are more than 1 meter long. Unfortunately no scientific study of these bones is reported, but it is possible that these bones are from a large extinct Pleistocene mammal. There is no tradition of these dragon bones before the relics of Saint Donatos arrived in Venice.