4/17/08 – 2:31am (the legend of Babaos)
The region of Perillos was said to house a mythical beast – Babaos. The account is practically forgotten nowadays, but the story reports the existence, and the misdeeds, of a gigantic creature having taken up residence in this region shortly after the departure, for the eighth crusade, of the lord of Perillos. This crusade occurred in 1270 and had Tunisia, not Palestine as its destination. The monster, described as a monstrous winged snake with human face, nourished itself, during the night, on domestic animals or, preferably, young children or stray shepherdesses. The royal and religious authorities were alerted and in spite of a strong reward, the massacres continued unrelentingly.
On his return from the crusade, the lord de Perillos, learning the horrible news that had befallen his estates, he chased the monster with a frightening weapon a brought back from Palestine: a crossbow. He was equipped with three dogs and three servants, then left to hunt after the terrible creature. In the third twilight [third evening], the animal decided to face the fierce warrior who had to shot three times to deadly wound the animal. Three more days were necessary for the lord of Perillos to arrive at the enormous carcass, as the creature had fallen into a deep pit. He cut away three gigantic pieces in testimony of his victory.
The legend affirms that one relic remained in the castle of Perillos, another was given in exchange for the reward promised by the authorities and the third was deposited in the church of Prat de Mollo, as a sign of religious devotion, testifying to the eternal fight against the malefic animal. Two of these bones have disappeared, but the third is still visible: it still hangs on the right-hand side of the porch at the church of Prat de Mollo. Prat de Mollo is situated in the far south of France, less than 100 kilometres from Perillos – on the Zero Meridian. Though it may seem a long way from Perillos, the gap becomes much smaller when it is known that the lords of Perillos had estates nearby.
So is the bone at Prat de Mollo that of an enigmatic beast? To some extent yes – but not to modern man: it is the bone of a whale.
So where does this leave the legend of Babaos? Legends of such mystical bears are not unique. The best known is probably that of the Minotaur, the bull-man, held in the labyrinth of King Minos, in Crete. Babaos fits within this framework of a mixture of animal and man; sometimes they are bearded, with wings or “enormous claws”. They might, nevertheless have been inspired by stories of exotic animals in far-off lands – after all, the lord of Perillos had gone to the Middle East. A creature that resembled a snake with wings or claws was described in about 1935, and even as recently as in 1970, in Tunisia where it was described as a hairy snake of more than three meters in length, devouring a young shepherdess! Of course, Tunisia was the country where the lord of Perillos had gone to on his crusade – did he bring back the story of this monster, which was later made into a legend, as a test of his character – or did he even bring back such a creature? For Perillos, one finds a document from 1583 (the notes of the monk Marius Cornellas Naquote) in which there is a mention of a creature identified as being of this kind: “one monstrous serpent and coming from the loves of a ‘Draco Volans’ [flying dragon] and of one of the fairies of the place.” Furthermore, strange bones have been found in recent years in the vicinity of Perillos. For the moment, they defy all attempts at classification.
Irrelevant of whether or not strange creatures roamed the area of Perillos, the story is clearly important as it was there to underline that the lord, upon his return, was still “worthy” to rule his country: he had defeated the power of chaos – evil – symbolised by Babaos. This story sits well within similar legends. They also have astronomical connotations: in the night’s sky, the monster of the various myths was symbolised by the constellation Cetus – which just “happens” to be identified with a whale.
One final question remains: where did this battle occur? Between Opoul and Perillos, on the right hand side of the road, sits a veritable abyss: a “gouffre”, with a clear warning sign in front stating that the hole drops down no less than fifty metres. It seems evident that this was the chasm into which the beast fell – and into which the lord pursued the creature, to find proof of his victory.