St. Dervil’s Fever Sweeps Blacktip Island

A likeness of St. Dervil from the present-day Our Lady of Blacktip cathedral.

A likeness of St. Dervil from the present-day Our Lady of Blacktip cathedral.

Blacktip Island is bracing for today’s 441st St. Dervil’s Day festivities, honoring St. Dervil of the Iguanas, patron Saint of scuba diving and iguana husbandry.

A Rosicrucian monk fleeing colonial authorities, Dervil landed on Blacktip Island in 1542.

“He built the island’s first monastery from conch shells, coral rock and marl mortar,” island historian and museum curator Smithson Altschul said. “Dervil tried to remove himself from the secular world, but good luck with that on this island, even back then.

“His first documented miracle was driving all the Caribbean saltwater crocodiles from the island,” Altschul said. “He did it in a drunken haze, but it saved the islanders, who were on the verge of being eaten out of house and home.”

A study in contrast, Dervil also raised iguanas in his one-room monastery.

“He was barking mad,” Altschul said. “He lived with dozens of rock iguanas. Called them his monks. Tried to teach them Gregorian chants. But he had banished the man-eating crocs, so he was golden with the locals.

“The coconut mead he brewed helped gild that lily as well. Dervil first served it at Communion when he ran out of wine. That proved so popular he started offering Communion four, five times a day. Then he cut out the services altogether and just served mead. He eventually converted the monastery’s storehouse into a tavern.”

Dervil’s ministry was cut short December 27, 1557 when Norse raiders, blown off course on their way to Greenland, sacked the monastery. The church bestowed sainthood in 1572, making St. Dervil the Tiperon Islands’ first, and only, martyr.

“Several of the iguanas that died with him were up for sainthood, too,” Altschul added. “Church politics got in the way of that, though.”

Modern observances focus on Dervil’s life rather than his death.

“He was a raging drunk, so the celebration centers on everyone wearing paper mitre caps, getting absolutely potted and trying to catch iguanas,” event organizer Jay Valve said. “The last one standing gets to wear the iguana-skin mitre in the coming year.”

The highlight of the day, as ever, will be the mead brew-off, with residents trying to reproduce Dervil’s original mead recipe, lost when the Norsemen torched the island. Some are more successful than others.

“We’ve had some brews that tasted quite heavenly,” Valve said. “Most just smell of old socks. Or worse. The good news is Led Waite, our master of ceremonies, has his sight back after judging last year’s entries, so he’s good to go.”

The winner of the brew-off will receive an iguana.

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