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Spain, 9th century


He lived as a hermit in a cave in the mountains, performing austerities. Satan, jealous of his piety, assumed the form of another hermit, living in a nearby cave.

The Count of Barcelona, convinced that his beautiful teenaged daughter was possessed, sent her to Juan to be exorcised. Urged on by his fellow hermit, Juan asked the girl to stay with him in his cave. Lust overwhelmed him. He raped her, then cut off her head and hid her body. Realizing what Satan had made him do, he cried out to God and traveled to Rome to beg forgiveness from the pope. The pope told him that in penance he must live as a beast until the day when a four-month-old baby would pardon him.

He crawled like an animal back to Spain, living on leaves and scratching for roots. Hair grew all over his body; the fur was matted with dirt. Seven years passed.

Then he was discovered by a hunting party, who marveled at this strange beast. They put a rope around his neck and took him to the city. Crowds came to look at him. Among them was the new wife of the same Count of Barcelona, carrying her four-month-old baby in her arms.

The baby suddenly spoke: “Stand up, Juan! You are forgiven.” He stood up; the hair disappeared from his body.

He confessed his crime and led them to the cave. They exhumed the count’s daughter and found her alive, unaged, and with only a hairline scar on her neck from her beheading. She vowed never to marry, became a nun, and later was the abbess of the monastery the count built on the site.


Eliot Weinberger is a writer, editor, and translator. Angels & Saints is forthcoming from Christine Burgin and New Directions.

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