Hagiographie: The role of the dolphin in hagiography appears to have been largely determined by Classical legends of the animal rescuing those in danger at sea. The account of the martyrdom of Saint Lucian of Antioch by Simeon Metaphrastes, while certainly apocryphal, has the saint thrown into the sea, weighted by a large rock tied to his right arm. After fifteen days in which the body has remained intact, a dolphin is able to roll it ashore. There it is found by the saint’s disciples, one of whom had been advised by the saint in a dream how to find his body (AASS 7th January, 362). There are other such legends of martyr’s bodies being rescued by dolphins (AASS 8th March, 89). Another Vita in the Metaphrast’s collection, that of the Palestinian hermit Saint Martinian, supposed to have been born during the reign of Constantius, contains a legend of dolphins helping a living saint. The hermit had been living upon an isolated island, when a shipwrecked young woman is washed up upon his shore. Having ensured she would survive alone, the saint swims to the shore with the aid of some dolphins (AASS 13th February, 670). In the Vita of Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim, d. 1094, at the climax of a dispute, the saint’s monastic enemies throw him into the sea, his hands and feet bound. However, God sends a dolphin out of the deep sea, which is able to loosen the bonds with its mouth and carry the saint to shore without injury (AASS 2nd June, 238). The dolphin’s miraculous reputation appears in metaphorical form in the Vita of an early Bishop of Milan, Saint Monas (d. 249), written not later than the eleventh-century. Here the Bishop’s fishing for the souls of his congregation is aided by dolphins (AASS 12th October, 14). The eleventh-century Vita of Saint Isarn,Abbot of Saint-Victor of Marseille, d. 1048, contains an unusual story where three dolphins attack a monk out fishing. The monk, protected by the prayers of the Abbot, lacking even a net, is able to capture one of the animals, who had escaped many sailors with nets in the past. There is also a layer of metaphor here, with the dolphins linked to the Trinity, and the one captured animal symbolising the unity of God (AASS 24th September, 742). While the legend of Saint Lucian is referred to in a sixteenth-century account of the translation of Mary of Oignies (AASS 23rd June, 681), dolphins’ propensity to save those in maritime danger does not seem to have spread beyond the Mediterranean. In Britain, dolphins appear unsentimentally as a source of food. Firstly in the anonymous Vita of Saint Cuthbert, the saint is sustained while journeying among the Picts by the finding of dolphin flesh (Vita Cuthberti auctore anonymo in Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert, 84-5). In the twelfth century the Vita of Godric of Finchale (d. 1170) contains a similar story. Here Godric as a boy is struggling to find food for his poverty-stricken but devout family. God rewards Godric’s own faith and that of his family when he finds a dead dolphin upon the shore, which he is able to take for food (Libellus de vita et miraculis Sancti Godrici, heremitae de Finchale, auctore Reginaldo monacho Dunelmensi, 26-7). The Classical legends would have been available, but such literary precedent is alone evidently not enough to establish a particular topos in a regional hagiographic tradition.
Ausg.: Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert, ed. B. COLGRAVE, 1940; Libellus de vita et miraculis Sancti Godrici, heremitae de Finchale, auctore Reginaldo monacho Dunelmensi, ed. J. STEPHENSON, 1847.