Bernhardt-House (2008 Congress)

Phillip A. Bernhardt–House
(Everett, Washington)
“The Presence and Absence of Werewolves in Insular Celtic Hagiography”

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 43rd International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 2008)
Session on “Bark at the Rune:  Transforming the Medieval Werewolf”
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Jeff Massey

2008 Congress

[First published on our first website]

Werewolves as commonly understood (though not always) are found in Insular Celtic sources at a very early date (from about the eighth century CE), and familiarity with their existence in these cultures can be assumed from the early medieval period onwards.  The word “werewolf” in Irish (*ferchú*) occurs as a personal name, as well as a common noun, and a variety of other terms also imply a lycanthropic image or concept (for example *conrecht*, “wolf-shape”).

This paper mentions some of the more well-known Irish, Breton and Welsh werewolves in brief, before turning to its main subject, the Irish and Latin Vita of Saint Náile (Irish) and the related Vitae of Saints Ronán and Rumon (respectively Irish/Breton and Cornish).  The discussion examines how the image of the werewolf, while not present literally, is used in some cases to heighten the repute of the holy figure (Náile), or to accuse and demean him (Ronán and Rumon).  Conclusions emerge from the interconnection of these saints’ feast-days and their wider associations to canid shapeshifting motifs and narratives in wider Insular Celtic and Arthurian traditions.