An Irish priest discovers werewolves looking for absolution in this ancient tale retold by ANN MASSEY
In 1182, a priest set out from Ulster to the south of Ireland on official Holy Business with his squire.
They travelled from morning until dusk when they moved from the road and into the edge of the forest to seek shelter.
As it grew dark the squire lit a fire as much to protect them from anything lurking in the trees as for warmth, as the priest was on a mission and knew the Devil would be out to try and to lure him from his path.
As the squire slept, the priest sat by the light of the fire, the noises of the forest all around him.
He suddenly looked up realising there was no sound, just eerie silence. A snap of a branch startled the priest and he moved closer to the flames as he heard a raspy voice call out: “Father, do not be afraid, I mean you no harm.”
The priest called back out into the trees: “Move into the light my son and I shall have no need to be afraid.”
With this, there was some shuffling and the priest squinted into the darkness but could see nothing.
The voice said: “I fear my physical appearance will cause you distress and I do not wish to see you alarmed, I merely seek the help of a Holy man.”
The priest replied “My son I have travelled this country and seen the damage and deformity that illness and disease can cause. I will not be alarmed.”
With this a great hulking shape emerged from the still of the night, matted fur, dripping from its jowls, sharp-pointed teeth glistening in the light of the fire.
The priest was terrified, yet stayed calm so as not to cause further anguish to his squire who was now awake and cowering in fear behind a tree.
Without a doubt, the priest knew before him was a wolfman.
‘Werewolves used as weapons by Ancient Kings of Ireland’
He had heard stories of the same being used as weapons among the Ancient Kings of Ireland as they battled one another.
“Explain yourself and know I am protected by the Lord God,” said the priest. “Father, I too am a Christian. Years ago my clan were cursed by Abbot Natalis. Every seven years, two of our clan are transformed into werewolves and banished to the forest. When we return after seven years, two more take our place. The sin for which my clan was punished has long been forgotten but we remain cursed.”
The priest knew of Natalis and his severe methods of forcing Christianity upon a Pagan land. The wolf-man continued, “My wife and I were very old on our turning and she now lies wounded and dying in the forest. I beg of you to administer the Last Rites so she may die a Christian and pass into heaven. “
The priest agreed and leaving his squire behind followed the werewolf into the forest. As they approached a hollow in the trees, the priest could make out the outline of the she-wolf. As he neared he could hear her shallow rasping breaths. “Help me father and hear my contrition” she begged.
“I want to”, said the priest “but first I need proof that you are indeed human under your fur.”
With this, the she-wolf used her last ounce of strength to tear fur and skin from her front leg and paw so the priest could see she was indeed, a dying old woman. He hurriedly gave her the Last Rites as she died.
The grateful werewolf took the priest back to his squire and the priest promised to call again.
He informed his bishop who in turn reported to Rome, documented in 1185.
Despite his best efforts, the priest was unable to find the werewolf or his clan again.