Variations: Malbête, Malebàete, Malebeste (archaic), Bête d’Angles (Beast of Angles), Troussepoil
Visitors to the French town of Angles, in the Vendée, are drawn to the beautiful church of Notre-Dame-des-Anges (Our Lady of the Angels). There, at the top of the bell tower, stands a monstrous stone bear glaring down on the city. Those visitors would be well advised to steer clear of its line of sight.
Long ago, it is said that a terrible beast ravaged the countryside of Angles. It was in the form of a great black bear, with shaggy, matted fur, and it became known as the Malebête – the “Evilbeast” or “Illbeast”. This monster had a predilection for young maidens, glutting itself almost exclusively on women. After feeding it would then wash itself in the nearby river, causing its hair to clump and stick out and granting the river the name of Troussepoil (“Hair-Raiser”, more or less).
The depredations of this demonic creature led to increasing concern. The river was running red with blood, and the female population was dwindling. None dared approach it, as its strength was greater than any knight’s. As it was an incarnation of the Devil himself, it became clear that only a sufficiently holy man would be capable of defeating it. The abbots of Fontaines and Talmont both went to face the beast, only to scurry away in terror when it charged them. The Pope’s envoy fasted for two days before confronting the Malebête, but barely escaped with his life and swore never to return.
Was there any man holy enough to destroy the Malebête? The answer came in the form of Father Martin, an old monk from the Angles cloister who spent most of his time isolated in contemplation of God. Perhaps out of desperation, he was begged to do something about this.
Leaning on a walking stick, dressed only in his ecclesiastical robes, Father Martin walked out to where the Malebête awaited him. To everyone’s amazement, the beast lowered its gaze in front of the hermit. “Follow me”, he said simply, and the Malebête did – as did the entire population of Angles. They followed Father Martin all the way back to the church, where he told the Malebête to climb the bell tower. Once at the top, it froze in place, and turned to stone.
Despite the rejoicing over the Malebête’s defeat, there were still a few voices of dissent in the form of a few girls who taunted Father Martin. “Since when are you the Devil’s shepherd?” they sneered. Father Martin merely smiled and looked up at the Malebête. “Henceforth, you shall feed only on the beauty of the girls of Angles”, he stated. And instantly all the women present became ugly and ran home in shame.
Since then, the resourceful women of Angles have found ways of avoiding the Malebête’s hungry gaze, and sneak safely into the church via a back door. Today the Malebête’s primary sustenance comes through the tourist industry.
This tale was first told by Benjamin Fillon, a dubious character who seems to have created the story out of whole cloth, making it a neo-myth of sorts. For one thing, the statue of the Malebête is of pre-Christian origin, predating its own legend; it was originally in a seated position, and was mutilated into its current shape. The Malebête’s story is also a familiar one, echoing many others told of anthropophagous monsters slain by righteous men.
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