What The First Reported Sighting of the Loch Ness Monster Can Teach Us

On August 21, 565 a monk reports the first sighting of the Loch Ness Monster

A saint named Columba, famous for establishing Christian monasteries across modern day Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain, was the first person to have reported a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. However, he never actually suggested he had seen the "Loch Ness Monster," but in his biography, it claims he saved a man from a monster in the River Ness. 

THE BACKGROUND

Most of what we know about St. Columba would have been lost from historical records had it not been for another monk, named Adamnanwho recorded St. Columba's life works in his appropriately titled, The Life of St. Columba. The biography describes many of Columba's miracles. One of these miracles leads us to the Loch Ness Monster. In Chapter XXVIII of Book II Adamnan describes how Columba came across a monster in the River Ness and saved a man from it. 

Here are a few key excerpts from the book:

CHAPTER XXVIII. 

How an Aquatic Monster was driven off by virtue of the blessed man's prayer.

[St. Columba] was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water
[St. Columba] directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the [boat] that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then [St. Columba] observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, "Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed." Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes

In summary, Columba comes across a man who has been killed by the Loch Ness Monster and then sees the monster with his own eyes and saves another man from it. 

THE PRESENT DAY QUESTION

As readers of the past, it's near impossible for us not to apply our own present day logic to the things we read. It's just easier for our brains to process things on our own comfortable terms. Most everyone has heard of the Loch Ness Monster. In fact, I think the majority of people want the Loch Ness Monster to be real. Pop culture has even named the beast "Nessie," which personifies something much more human than monster.

This is a relatively simple example of a very complex historical problem, but why does it matter that some historical sources suggest that this was the first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster? Too easily, we change history to fit our modern day perspectives. 

For a few leading questions, I'd like to ask: Does Adamnan even suggest that this is a true story, or is this simply an anecdote to provide a proverbial lesson? Is it concerning that this is the River Ness, not the Loch Ness and would likely limit the potential possibility of this being some massive beast? 

What if I brought up a more polarizing historic example, let's say, Andrew Jackson. Jackson was considered by most historians to be the greatest example of a politician of the "Common Man." He is the only president to have an entire era named after him-- The Jacksonian Era. However, today we remember him mostly for the Trail of Tears. He was recently pulled from the $20 dollar bill because he is now being scrutinized from a 21st-century lens. These are two examples on very opposite ends of the historical spectrum. Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears had very grave consequences, while "Nessie" might be considered a fun twist to history (don't tell the hardcore believers I said that, but in both cases we are viewing them from a modern perspective and must determine where we change (or, perhaps, readdress) their historical importance.

Having read this article, this is the question I want you to walk away asking yourself: How do we reconcile our views today with the events of the past, without diluting the history and what people thought at the time?

Read more about Columba and the "Loch Ness Monster" below.


CHAPTER XXVIII. 

How an Aquatic Monster was driven off by virtue of the blessed man's prayer.

On another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, "Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed." Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.

Bryant Holt