Looking for a medieval legend about Jesus!
November 14, 2018 1:33 AM   Subscribe

There is presumably a "medieval European legend of how Christ was chased by his enemies. In that story, Jesus blessed the animals who helped him and cursed those who hindered him as he fled from his persecutors." I think that, from his helping and cursing, those animals came to have some of their defining characteristics. Does anyone know of this legend???
posted by mrmanvir to Religion & Philosophy (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The fact that I don't know this legend doesn't mean that it doesn't exist somewhere, but it seems like the sort of thing I would have heard of it if did. The only things I can think of that come close are a story where Jesus brings clay birds to life, but that's not medieval, it's from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, c. 2nd century. The only Christian story I know of about animals getting their defining characteristics is in the Bible itself, when God curses the snake in Genesis 3, so that afterward it must crawl on its belly. There are also several medieval legends about Saint Francis blessing or commanding animals, but none that involve a transformation that I know of. (Well, he did make one particular wolf gentle, but that's not really what you're looking for.)

So, I can give you a story about Jesus and birds, a story about a snake being cursed and taking on new characteristics, and some medieval legends about a saint and some animals, but I cannot think of a medieval Jesus legend about cursing or blessing animals and giving them defining characteristics. If it does exist, it must be pretty obscure.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:34 AM on November 14, 2018

There are certainly folk myths around this general idea; i.e. that robins/goldfinches/crossbills got their red plumage from trying to remove thorns or nails from Christ on the cross (mentioned in this interview). I think they’re more at the level of folklore rather than medieval hagiography, and they may only be attested in relatively modern form, I don’t know.

The other one I know of is about the collared dove, whose call sounds a bit like ‘eighteen’ in Greek (dekaokto). The Greek folk myth is that when Christ was carrying the cross, he asked an old woman by the side of the road for a drink of water, and she said that it would be 18 drachma. The story is that she was turned into a dove, and if it ever says ‘seventeen’ it will be transformed back into a woman, but it's too stubborn to do it. If it ever says ‘nineteen’ that means the end of the world. (there are different versions of this on the internet that don’t involve Christ, but that’s the version I read in one of Gerald Durrell’s books about his childhood in Corfu in the 1930s)

So those kinds of stories certainly exist, but I don’t know about the particular case you’re looking for.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:57 PM on November 14, 2018

Oh and also of course, the donkey has a cross-shaped mark on its back because it carried Christ into Jerusalem.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2018

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