This is the story of a most unusual bear. It appears in Robert of Brunne's Handlyng Synne as "The Tale of the Bear which kept the Hermit's Sheep, and how it was slain by envious Monks". Gosh, Robert of Brunne, spoilers!

The Story

St. Florentius is one of those hermit saints, the kind who hang out in the wilderness thinking holy thoughts and helping passers-by. He lived in the sixth century and that was the conventionally saintly thing to do during the period.

He kind of cheated on the hermit thing, though, in that he wasn't totally alone. First one finds him living with St. Eutycyus, a fellow hermit, but their bromance eventually comes to an end when Eutycyus leaves to become the igumen of a nearby monastery. Feeling lonely in his best friend's absence, Florentius prays that God send him a new companion and, ending his devotions, emerges from his cave to discover a massive bear.

whan he ros vp of his orysown,
he zede yn hys celle vp and down,
and opened hys zate, and loked oute
and sagh a beri wylde and stoute.

Florentius assumes God has sent this furry fellow to be his new roommate, and he's more or less right because this bear is smart, Good Will Hunting style. In no time at all Florentius has him fetching water and even herding his sheep for him. Not only does the bear not eat the sheep, he's a really good shepherd, bringing them back from the pasture exactly three hours later in the evening on feast days as per Florentius' request. So this animal understands Florentius' injunctions and he can also natively tell time. Not bad.

Obviously this is all too awesome to last. Eventually some monks at a nearby abbey, jealous of how much more famous Florentius is than their abbot, sneak down to the hermitage and kill the bear. That bear was probably too Christian to even put up a fight, God bless him - the story doesn't mention any of the attackers being too mauled to hear Florentius lay a wicked curse down on their oh-so-precious abbot when he discovers what they've done. Which is the least I'd have done. I mean, fuck! Once you've been best friends with a magical bear, you can't just get a dog or something. If you don't believe me, ask Christopher Robin.

Anyway, Florentius' doomsaying bears some fast fruit. The abbot dies the very next day of a sudden and nasty disease. On second thought, I'm not sure how fair that is - should he really suffer the sins of his yahoo groupies? But this is holy stuff so he probably had it coming; let's give God the benefit of the doubt and roll with it.

Miracle Rating: 8/10

This is top-class as far as miracles go, in that it doesn't involve multiplying food or mysterious healing or anything else you've heard a million times before. My one caveat is that the story doesn't live up to its full potential, in that it's framed as being all about Florentius when really the bear should take centre stage. Saint Bear. Heck, try thinking about things from his perspective. Imagine: you're a normal bear eating some forest stuff when all of a sudden God pulls you from your happy state of nature, pumps you full of brains and tells you you've got to go be this hairless thing's personal valet. Do you think Eutycyus had to do all of Florentius' chores for him? Herd your own sheep, Florentius, you only have six of them. And what kind of a needy clinglord was Florentius that he spent all his prayer points wishing for friends anyway? You're a hermit, dude. It's lonely. Deal.

Other Famous People with Pet Bears, Both Magical and Non-

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