Sighting the Loch Ness Monster

Saint Columba is a man. I think it is necessary to say so because the name looks exactly like a Latin feminine form (first declension, don’t you know?) and I wouldn’t want to cause confusion. Columba, the patron saint of Derby, founded the famous abbey at Iona (OK, maybe it’s as famous as Columba but at least I never confused it with a woman) and is one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. So he, or she, had a knack for starting things. Including in his spare time… uh… sighting a monster. In Loch Ness.

No, really. That’s what it says. He moved to Scotland to found Iona and stayed there most of the rest of his life, dying at Iona at age 75 in 597. And during his mission to the Picts he found time on August 22 of 565 AD to have some sort of encounter with a monster some identify with the famous Loch Ness one.

Iona’s pretty far from anything, across a strait from the Isle of Mull. And that characterization might get me letters since two villages on Mull are called Calgary and Tobermory so I guess somebody from there settled Canada. (It’s not far enough from anything to stop Vikings from repeatedly attacking it during their attacking stuff heyday, starting in 794 or 795 AD and including massacring 68 monks in 806 AD which made many of their colleagues feel that Ireland had a healthier climate with fewer iron blades slicing through the bloody air right at you… or France… or Switzerland, you know, really really far from the North Sea.) And if you follow the “Great Glen Fault” northeast toward Inverness from Mull you will encounter the murky waters of Loch Ness. Since Loch Ness in turn contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined I guess there’s a lot of places for a bumpy serpent thingy to hide.

I also have to concede that sightings going back 1451 years suggest there might be something there. And I’m all for vigorous local traditions including kitchy tourist-related elaborations. But the fact that no one has ever really seen it, let alone a herd of same that might be reproducing, and mighty few individual animals live 1451 years, suggest that somebody was mistaken or making things up.

Not that anyone ever embroiders tales of missionaries in any way, of course. But presumably the monster he chased away from one of his disciples into the depths of the River Ness with the sign of the cross after it killed some Pict wasn’t the Loch Ness Monster that doesn’t live there today. (I also like the bit of the story where it killed some Pict, a sort of Star Trek redshirt of the Columba legend.)

By the way, I was sort of right about the name Columba means “dove” in Latin and is a translation of his Irish name Colm Cille or “church dove”, which we don’t know if it was his birth name or adopted. But it turns out Jonah in Hebrew is dove. So that all kind of makes sense.

Unlike spotting the Loch Ness Monster, in any language.