(A less well known Christmas story)

Once upon a time long ago and fairly far away, the little French mountain village of Laroque enjoyed its single moment of fame. The moment came and went in the year 1363. This was a turbulent time in France, as the church took drastic measures to root out heresies and witchcraft. Trees were sparse around the village of Laroque, but the remains of a heretic could be seen hanging from almost every one of them. This gruesome landscape gave the decade its memorable name: the Swinging Sixties.

The good citizens of Laroque were only mildly heretical, which was just as well because not many trees were still available. If there was one flaw in their religious orthodoxy, it was their partiality for the Holy Hermit of Laroque, who lived in a cave on the hillside just above the village. He had been there as long as the oldest inhabitant could remember, which is to say about a week, and the villagers had got into the habit of visiting him with their little troubles. They would trudge up the hill with their plague sores and their dead sheep and their howling infants, and the hermit would emerge from his cave and speak in tongues.

“Go away you stupid French peasants,” he would cry with passion. “Superstitious, ignorant, filthy serfs, buzz off and leave me alone!”

The villagers would stand enchanted, and then slowly drift away, feeling that they had been blessed, perhaps even saved. Some said he was a saint, some said he was a social worker, some secretly thought that he might be a secular humanist.

The truth was that the Holy Hermit of Laroque was a gregarious Manichean heretic from Bulgaria named Prod, or perhaps Vlod, or Plod, or Scrod (accounts differ).

(A Manichean, by the way, is one who believes that the world is an eternal conflict between good and bad forces, between light and darkness. This was a heresy in 1363. Now of course it’s government policy).

Whoever he was, Grod couldn’t speak or understand a word of French. One story said that Blod had been expelled from Bulgaria for transvestism; or perhaps that Knod had been exiled from Transylvania for vulgarity.

Nobody knew the truth – that that Prod was a female impersonator, left behind by a troupe of travelling actors. A combination of deviant behavior, sloppy map-reading, unorthodox religious views, and bad breath had marooned him here amongst the peasants of Laroque, and Clod was not happy.

On Christmas Day 1363 the sky turned dark and a great rainstorm broke over the village of Laroque, accompanied by thunder and lightening and many impressive special effects.

This was routine. Great storms swept over the mountain every winter, and the inhabitants paid little attention. They closed their shutters, and opened bottles of their special brew, while the Holy Hermit Flod crouched in his cave and cursed his fate. As the hours went by and water poured down the hill, Nyod noticed that more and more of the hill was going with it; in fact the whole mountainside was beginning to bulge and slither like a badly-set blancmange.

Snod hesitated. He was a Manichean after all. He believed that bad things should happen to good people. But Flod was also a moral man. He must move the stupid villagers out of the path of the mud slide. He grabbed a few garments from his special costume sack, and splashed down to the village square.

It was indisputably his greatest performace. He screamed and shrieked, put everything he had into it, all his old Bulgarian theatrical training. He scared the villagers half to death, and they threw open their shutters all at once. There, in the middle of the village square in the teeming rain they saw a stately figure in a white robe, pointing imperiously towards the track that led down away from the village. As the lighting flickered, the figure seemed to appear and vanish in the gloom, always pointing and pointing away down the mountainside. Who could it be? Who else could it be?

It was too much for the superstitious peasants. With one hysterical impulse they rushed out of their huts and fled down the mountain. Just as the last villager escaped, a great tidal wave of mud swept into Laroque, and carried off the still-pointing figure of Quod, who was never seen or heard from again.

And so on that Christmas day in 1363, the villagers of Laroque were preserved from the great mud slide by the heretical Bulgarian transvestite Crod. When they crept back to the ruins of their village, there was no sign of the vision that had saved them. But, after mulling it over for two or three generations, they figured out that what they had seen was not a vision from heaven, but a vision very much from this earth.

And so a shrine to Blod was dedicated in the little church. And every year at this time the peasants – who are now much cleaner and more sophisticated than they used to be – come to the church and praise his name. Unfortunately, they have never been able to figure out what his name was.