The town was Tarascon in Provence, France, located on the Rhone River, just a few miles north of the Mediterranean. People of Tarascon swear that in about 46AD a child-eating monster terrorized the town. The people in the region called the monster Tarasque and described the beast as having six short legs, the shell of turtle, the head of a lion, and a scaly tail, tipped with a scorpion’s sting. They believed the monster had come from Galatia (Asia Minor). The legend of the monster had been established in local lore for many years, because statues of the Tarasque have been found that date back to the 3rd and 2nd century BC. The people of Tarascon must have believed that the legendary monster had awaken like a sleeping dragon to prey on their peaceful community.
The story goes that children playing by the river disappeared. Finally, a child saw a playmate pulled into the river by the monster and the towns people rallied to slay the beast. Their efforts failed; they could not find it. Finally, St. Martha came upon the beast along the riverbank and enchanted it so it sat submissively. While in this helpless state, the townsmen attacked the monster and hacked it to pieces. In gratitude for St. Martha’s help everyone in the town converted to Christianity and they renamed their town Tarascon after the beast. St. Martha welcomed the converts into the church, but scolded them for killing the helpless animal instead of capturing it. Perhaps, Martha thought the beast was tamed and no longer a threat.
The most plausible explanation for the story is that a crocodile escaped when a Roman ship filled with exotic animals bound for the Coliseum floundered. Perhaps one of the creatures swam to shore and found its way up the Rhone river a few miles.
Strip away the fanciful embellishments, and you might be able to see a crocodile. The behavior of the Tarasque is more compelling. Pulling children into the river is very crocodile-like. In Africa they lie just below the surface and pull young antelope into the water and drown them. Being cold blooded, a crocodile may have appeared to be enchanted and helpless, while trying to warm up on a riverbank.
Fact or fiction, people in the town swear the story is true and the town celebrates the conquest of St. Martha with a grand festival parading monster-like creations are through the streets.