Priest Communes Good Werewolves

From Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) and his Topographia Hibernica, Topography of Ireland (Twelfth Century):

            I now proceed to relate some wonderful occurrences which have happened within our times. . .

It chanced that a priest [and his assistant] was journeying from Ulster towards Meath. He was watching by a fire which he had kindled under the branches of a spreading tree. Lo! a wolf came up to them, and immediately addressed them: “Rest secure, and be not afraid, for there is no reason you should fear.”

Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hibernica Image from British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.
Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hibernica
Image from British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.

The travellers being struck with astonishment and alarm, the wolf added some orthodox words referring to God. The priest then implored him, and adjured him by Almighty God and faith in the Trinity, not to hurt them, but to inform them what creature it was that in the shape of a beast uttered human words. The wolf, after giving catholic replies to all questions, added at last: “There are two of us, a man and a woman [who] are compelled every seven years to put off the human form, and depart from the dwellings of men. Quitting entirely the human form, we assume that of wolves.

“And now, she who is my partner in this visitation lies dangerously sick not from hence, and, as she is at the point of death, I beseech you, inspired by divine charity, to give her the consolations of your priestly office.”

The priest followed the wolf trembling as he led the way to a tree [and] beheld a she-wolf, who under that shape was pouring forth human sighs and groans. On seeing the priest, she gave thanks to God. She then received from the priest all the rites of the church duly performed, as far as the last communion. This also she importunately demanded: holy communion.

Priest communes werewolf. Note the missal around the wolf's neck. Topgraphia Hibernica,  From British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.
Priest communes werewolf. Note the missal around the wolf’s neck. Topgraphia Hibernica, From British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.

The priest stoutly asserted that he was not provided with it, then the he-wolf, who had withdrawn to a short distance, came back and pointed out a small missal-book, containing some consecrated wafers, which the priest carried on his journey, suspended from his neck, under his garment, after the fashion of the country. The wolf then entreated him not to deny them the gift of God. . .

The she-wolf immediately presented the form of an old woman. The priest, seeing this, and compelled by his fear more than his reason, gave the communion; the recipient having earnestly implored it, and devoutly partaking of it. These rites having been duly, rather than rightly, performed, the he-wolf gave them his company during the whole night at their little fire, behaving more like a man than a beast. When morning came, he led them out of the wood, and, leaving the priest to pursue his journey, pointed out to him the direct road for a long distance.

Epilogue: Later the priest confesses this incident to his bishop. The bishops asked Gerald, who was also a priest, to comment on the incident, but alas, he could not attend the meeting.


From Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hibernica.

Edited and abridged by Cynthia June Long.

Images from the British Library manuscript Royal MS 13 B VIII.


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