St. Martha did it, and she didn’t even break a sweat
Lazarus, Martha, and Mary often entertained the Lord when he came into Bethany. They would sit and talk, listening intently to what the Master had to say. Martha, however, was always full of pluck. After all, she was the one who complained to Jesus, saying Mary should help in the kitchen instead of sitting at his feet listening to stories.
Later, when Lazarus died she fussed. “ Jesus, if you would have been here our brother would yet be alive.”
Out of love, Jesus rose her brother from the dead, and still, she wasn’t happy. “He’s been dead four days, surely he stinketh!” Martha sure didn’t hesitate to give Jesus a piece of her mind, despite knowing who he was.
Berlue vs. The Beast
About Four years after the Resurrection of Christ, perilous days hit the little family of Bethany. Christians were being persecuted. The siblings were taken captive, put on a boat without sail, without oars, without rudder, and sent into the sea to die. Miraculously they landed on the shore of France. First, they went to Marseille, and then Aix. There Martha ministered to the poor and took care of her family just as she had always done in Bethany.
While Martha went on with her daily duties, the town of Berlue was in a fight for its life. No, it wasn’t the plague or invaders or even famine. It was a dragon of an extraordinary variety known as La Tarasque. Resting on six powerful legs was a short fat body with the face of a lion, the tail of a scorpion and a spiked shell. The beast was said to have come from the Sea of Galicia where it had been born of a bonacho and a leviathan.
Understandably, the dragon had anger management issues, a condition most dragons seem to suffer. Seeing how he had the strength of twelve bears this caused some difficulty for the local residents. He was wont to hide in the river and take down passing ships. Walking through the forest was just as dangerous, as he found passers-by to be as tasty as those on the river.
Now, one day Martha began to hear tales of the monster and her old boldness returned. She, who had once barked orders to the Lord, felt no hesitation in confronting such a beast.
Real women don’t fear dragons
Into the woods and toward his lair the people led her. Surely some just pointed the way, too fearful for their own lives to follow. Others couldn’t resist being witness to the carnage they were sure would ensue.
Growling and hissing the monster eyed St. Martha. His hot breath seethed through the gaps of his blood-stained teeth, incensing the air with the odor of death.
Martha looked him straight in the eye, furrowed her brow and gave a loud humph.
Reaching into her pocket she pulled out a vial of holy water. “Your breath is foul and your attitude fouler. I have no mind to put up with such nonsense,” she said and taking the water doused the dragon.
Like a melting ice pop in the heat of the July sun, the dragon’s demeanor began to change. He was now a docile dragon. A compliant dragon. In fact, he was a veritable pussycat of a dragon.
La Tarasque est Mort
Tying him with her girdle, Martha led him into town. Unfortunately, his reputation preceded him and the people, not trusting his change of heart, killed him. Martha must have scolded them severely because soon the people were full of remorse. They were also pretty wowed by the spunk of Martha who gave the credit for her success to the Lord. The town promptly converted and renamed itself Tarascon in honor of the dragon. They also built a statue as a memorial, and to remind them of the little lady who freed them from their terror. Since 1474 a festival has been held (now on the last weekend in June) to honor Martha and the dragon.
Curiously, the herb tarragon, or estragon in French, grows profusely in Tarascon. It’s Latin name, Artemisia dracunculus sativa, translates to little dragon.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Notes and Sources:
Nerluc is given as the name of the town in some sources. Both mean “ Black Lake”
A Bonacho was a bull-like creature with a unique method of defense. He could expel a caustic substance from his behind that would injure anyone who might think of pursuing him. A leviathan was a sea monster. How the two fell in love is anybody’s guess.
The Golden Legend, Jacobus da Varagine c.1260 ( can be found free here.)