Thursday, May 9, 2019

Five Christian Saints Associated with Werewolves

St. Christopher with the head of a dog

The first mention of a werewolf is in Greek mythology, when Lykaon was turned into a wolf after dishing up a plate of human flesh to Jove, hence the Greek word Lycanthropy (wolf-man) for this phenomena. Before the age of exploration, the belief in werewolves or wolf-people was a common belief, even by the most educated. It was believed that those who lived at the edge of the world, beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire, had particular traits not normally human, and among these peoples were what is called "dog-headed" people, known in Greek as Cynocephali, whose bodies were human but whose heads were like that of a dog or wolf, and they are often described as cannibals. Thus Saints who came from these unexplored and feared regions, or who were missionaries in these regions, became associated with werewolves.

Below are a five examples:

1. Saint Christopher the Martyr: Though he is commonly known as the patron saint of travelers, the identification of St. Christopher was that he was initially a pagan and a member of the tribe of the Marmaritae, and the Greeks translated the name of his native land literally to mean "land of dog-headed peoples." Since the civilized inhabitants of the Greco-Roman world had long been accustomed to describe those who lived on the edge of their world and beyond as the strange inhabitants of stranger lands, cannibals, dog-headed peoples and worse, and the original account of the martyrdom of St. Christopher described his origin from the land of cannibals and dog-headed peoples, it was signified that he came from the edge of the civilized world as the inhabitants of the Roman Empire saw it, and the Marmaritae did indeed inhabit such a peripheral region. For this reason Byzantine iconographers sometimes depicted St. Christopher with the head of a dog, since he is described as a Cynocephalus.

2. Saint Andrew the Apostle: St. Andrew is said to have preached Christianity to many groups including the Scythians and the Neuri. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Neuri (Νευροί) were a tribe living North of the Tyres, and the furthest nation beyond the Scythian farmers along the course of the river Hypanis. Herodotus says that "they observe Scythian customs" and that "they seem to be magicians." He also reports a Scythian tale that the Neuri changed once a year into wolves, although giving no credence to it. A possible explanation for this is that since the Neuri were from what we know today as the cold regions of Russia, using wolf skins for warmth is not outside the realm of possibility for inhabitants of such a harsh climate: this is likely the reason Herodotus described their practice as “transformation”.

3. Saint Patrick: Well known both in Ireland, and throughout the world, few know that he is believed to have transformed the Welsh King Vereticus into a wolf?

According to legend, St. Patrick once punished the Welsh king Vereticus by transforming him into a wolf. While St. Patrick was in Ireland he became so disgusted with the wickedness of certain tribes that would howl like wolves when he tried to preach to them Christianity, that he cursed them and condemned them to become werewolves. The spell fell on the poor tribesmen and caused them to turn into werewolves every seven years. They would stay in wolf form for seven years, then once the years passed they would turn back into humans, but only for another seven years, then it was back to wolf all over again. It was a horrible vicious cycle. Seven years as a wolf, seven as a human, seven as a wolf, seven as a human… until they died.

But during their seven years as a werewolf they weren’t denied the sacraments of the Church. In 1191 a man named Giraldus Cambrensis recorded the testimony of a priest that swore that he once gave Holy Communion to a werewolf. Throughout the years, travelers to Ireland insisted that they had met entire families of werewolves and that they have even seen some people transform into wolves. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, Ireland was known as Wolfland.

4. Saint Natalis the Abbot: A lesser known saint, he was a sixth century abbot of Kilmanagh, who is said to have cursed the people of Ossory with a curse like that of St. Patrick, where every seven years they became werewolves and left off their human form until the seven years were complete, and so the cycle went.

5. Saint Hubert of Liege: St. Hubert has a patronage that is most peculiar, as he is said to be the patron saint against werewolves. It is said that St. Hubert could heal deadly diseases such as rabies, thus, he is also known as the patron saint of the fear of werewolves, protecting Christians against them... or from becoming one of them.