The Dragon-defeating Saint of Sark
On a walk round the island of Sark last week I saw a dragon.
This was most unexpected. It was red and huge, as opposed to great and green (Tolkien fans will know what I mean) and made of metal and was standing, rather incongruously, outside a bicycle repair shop. Of course I had to take its photo.
What was it doing there? Was the bicycle repair man a Tolkien fan or was there some other reason for its presence?
Perhaps I should be used to meeting dragons on my holidays by now. Last year it was seeing the Tatzelwurm at Aare Gorge in Switzerland and the story of St Beatus defeating the dragon at Interlaken that took me by surprise (see my blog ‘In Tolkien’s Footsteps in Switzerland’ for the details and pictures). This year I was touring the Channel Islands off the coast of France. After exploring Jersey and Guernsey I was now to spend a day on the tiny island of Sark which I had longed to see for years.
Its otherworldly reputation – a feudal society with no cars or planes allowed – had made it fascinating to me. Plus there had been the TV series called ‘An Island Parish’ about the churches on Sark, that showed the small tight-knit community there all year round, which seemed quaint and charming, and to have preserved traditions and a neighbourliness that we have lost on the mainland.
It all seemed to promise a trip back in time. So I was perhaps expecting saints, but not dragons.
A few minutes in the tiny building housing the Societe Sercquaise put me right.
Here was a pamphlet with a dragon on the cover – a dragon with a bearded monk standing next to it who was holding it on a leash made from his priest’s stole, embellished with a cross. Apparently this was Saint Magloire, none other than the patron saint of Sark. Like England’s St George, he too had slain a dragon, though in his role as a monk rather than a knight. And as with St George, the legends about him are varied and historically confused, but exciting. According to this short history by Martin Remphry , Saint Magloire (or Maglorius) came to Sark around 565 AD to establish a Christian monastic community. He had been given half of the island by Loyesco of Neutstrie in Brittany, in return for curing him from leprosy. The half of the island belonging to the saint was so blessed in the fertility of its crops and fishing and animal life that it began to cause trouble with the natives on the other half of the island who were not so blessed! Magloire, who may have been Welsh or Breton, seems to have that closeness to the natural world typical of the Celtic saints, and is even called a nephew of King Arthur. He performed many miracles, such as healings and saving people from drowning. He began schools for the islanders and became the Bishop of Dol.
But where does the dragon come in? Cue a photo of the dragon from another angle, looking almost cute next to a matching basket of flowers…
Apparently Magliore had already slain a dragon on Jersey before he even came to Sark! The locals were so pleased they gave him land (he seems to have had a way with real estate) and he established an oratory there. Remphry says there there are few details but speculates that Magliore might have used the same method of dragon-slaying as another Breton saint – St Paul Aurelian. He defeated a 60 foot serpent on the island of Batz by tying his stole round its neck and luring it off a cliff and into the sea. And Magliore’s cousin, St Sampson, did the same thing in Cornwall.
A section of the medieval monastery on Sark still exists next to the Seigneurie, the home of the ruler of Sark. Unfortunately I did not get to see this as collapsing over an ice-cold lemonade in the 90 degree heat in the cafe there took precedence instead.
Taken around the island on the back of a horse-drawn cart under a blazing sun
is probably the hottest and most sunburnt I’ve ever been, and the nearest I got to meeting a fire-breathing dragon. Probably a good thing, as I didn’t have my stole on me at the time…
 Martin Remphry, ‘Saint Magliore, Patron Saint of Sark’, La Societe Sercquaise, Sark, 2010.