In Ireland, the mermaid represented a religious being, contrasting the popular view held by Saint Ambrose, 340-397, Saint Jerome, 347-420, and Isadore of Seville, 560-636, who believed mermaids to be “emblematic of heresy, worldly pleasures, and lust” (4). The story of Liban, a mermaid who converted to Christianity is told in Patrick Joyce’s compilation, Old Celtic Romances, written in 1879 (4).
Liban, a mermaid off the Irish coastline asks the Irish St. Comgull to remove her from the ocean, and he responds by taking her out and baptizing her with the help of holy men (4). St. Comgull’s action stands out because mermaids were to be avoided based on their sexual associations.
So then why would a Christian mermaid be popularized in Irish culture if mermaids had many taboo associations?
1. Since mermaids were commonly viewed as secondary only to prostitutes, the conversion of Liban shows that the Christian faith is available to all. If a mermaid converted to Christianity then surely anyone could, making Christianity a religion of the masses.
2. The conversion of a mermaid shows that all creatures worship God, being subject to their creator. Whether a human or animal, the church wanted to show God as ruler of all.
3. The tale shows St. Comgull as the archetypal priest, fulfilling the goal of conversion by bringing God’s message to a “dangerous” being.
The conversion of Liban remains a popular story in Ireland. Liban became an Irish saint and a cross shaped monument stands on the shores of Argyllshire, commemorating her conversion (4).
• Mermaid (what it represents): Gilbert, Judith. “mermaid.” World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2015. Web.