Thanks to a friend for pointing out the existence of this exciting, unique monster to me. This info about her is mostly lifted from a French tourism site.
A swampy area of the Rhone, roughly where the town of Tarascon is now, was once called niger focus, or "heart of darkness". A later reference called it id est niger locus, or Nerluc. When the Romans arrived, they called the small collection of habitations here Ernaginum, probably from the habitants' ur-naga, reflecting the worship of a primeval serpent or dragon.
A huge monster emerged from the sea and chose the river Rhone as its
new home. The legend of this ancient creature, as described in
12th-century writings, was of a half-serpent half-lion monster from
Gallicia, the ofspring of the ancient-world serpents Leviathan and
One source says the Tarasque’s body was like that of an ox borne upon short bear-like legs with enormous claws. Her turtle-like shields were covered with curved spikes, while the rest of her reptilian torso was armored with closely overlapping scales. The tail was long and curved like that of a scorpion; and the head was shaped like a lion’s, but with a horse's ears and an expression like that of a bitter old man (Felice Holman & Nanine Valen, The Drac: French Tales of Dragons and Demons, Scribner's Sons, New York: 1975).
Local heroes, including the King of Nerluc and his knights, fought the Tarasque and perished. Others tied animals along a trail into a deep swamp, near Avignon, hoping to lead the monster there to her doom. But the swamp belonged to the realm of the devil and the Tarasque was a creature of the devil. So when the Tarasque followed the trail of delicious animals into the swamp, it was warned in time to escape the trap.
Along Came Martha
Martha (Saint Martha of Bethany) was born sometime in the 1st century to a Syrian duke named Syro and his wife, Encharia of Magdalene, in Bethany, near Jerusalem. As a girl Martha lived with her brother, Lazarus and her sister, Mary Magdalene. Their friend Jesus was a frequent visitor in their home.
Following the crucifixion of their friend, a group including the siblings Martha, Lazarus and Mary Magdalenem, along with Mary Jacobe, Mary Salome, St Maximinus and Cedonius, were cast adrift in a small boat without sails, oars or supplies. They eventually landed safely at Marseille where they split up and went their own ways. Martha of Bethany went either to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer or Aix-en-Provence, and became a missionary, beloved for her gracious manner.
Martha was in Nerluc one market day to spread the word of her Christian God, when everyone was talking about the dragon. The townspeople challenged her to prove the strength of her religion by subduing the dragon. So Martha set out barefoot in her white dress to find the tarasque, carrying no other weapon than a jar of holy water. At the monster's lair, Martha held up two sticks as a cross and used hymns and prayers to charm the beast. She sprinkled holy water on it to quench its fire, then used its sharp tooth to cut off her braids and make a bridle to lead the now-tamed Tarasque back to town.
Here comes the tragic part of the story. Though the Tarasque had been tamed by Martha and was docile and ready to lead a peaceful life as a nice French citizen,
the people were not ready to see a monster waiting in line with them to buy baguettes. And so they attacked the contrite tarasque and killed it with a shower of stones. Martha took the opportunity to convert everyone in the town to Christianity, and the town changed its name from Nerluc to Tarascon, in honor of this week's featured monster. For many years, a reenactment of the taming of the tarasque was held yearly, in which a young girl led a replica of the beast through the town. I wish I were that young girl.