In 1658, a boy was born to Francisco de la Vega and Maria del Casar, who was given his father’s name, Francisco. Already at the age of five, he demonstrated an incredible ability to swim, attracting the attention of the locals with his skills. However, his true vocation was discovered even later, when he traveled to the city of Las Arenas to become a carpenter.
In 1674, on St. John’s Eve, Francisco decided to float down the river to the sea. He jumped into the water and was carried away by the strong current. The locals hoped he would return soon, but his disappearance was unexplained. His brothers searched tirelessly for his body, but without success. The memory of Francisco began to fade.
Five years later, in February 1679, fishermen fishing in the bay of Cádiz saw a strange creature approaching them at a shallow depth that amazed and frightened them with its appearance. Rumors spread like dust along the quays of the Andalusian capital, and soon the first device for catching the mysterious fish thief was constructed from a trawling net with bait made of meat and bread.
On several occasions a large creature, whose distinct shape could not be seen through the water column, was seen devouring pieces of food and then disappearing very quickly. After many days, during which it was seen in the vicinity of the boats, the sea creature was caught and brought ashore.
The fishermen were dumbfounded. Their captive was a rather tall young man, at least five feet tall, with pale, almost transparent skin and fiery red hair. A strip of fish-like scales ran down his body from his throat to the bottom of his belly, and another one ran down his spine. The fingers on his hands were joined by a racing brown film, giving the hands a resemblance to duck’s feet.
The astonishing captive mooed and roared in an animal-like manner, and it required the efforts of a dozen harbor dwellers to hold him down. The mysterious creature was placed in a Franciscan monastery, where the mysterious Fish Man stayed for three weeks.
The secretary of the Holy Office (as we would say today – the head of the local department or office of the Inquisition), Domingo de la Cantolla, was very concerned when he learned of what had happened. He immediately ordered a whole series of different exorcism rites, i.e. the exorcism of demons that might have taken up residence in such a strange body. Experts in foreign languages, such as Brother Juan Rosende, arrived at the monastery and interrogated the Fish Man for twenty-four hours, trying to get any intelligible answer out of him.
At last the word “Lierganes” came out of the ichthyander’s mouth, a word which no one in Cádiz understood except a young man from Santader, who was then moonlighting in the shipyard of the Andalusian capital. He knew that it was the name of a small village in Cantabria, part of the bishopric of Burgos, which included the settlements along the banks of the river Miera.
Doubt, surprise and apparent distrust seized Domingo de la Cantolla, who, however, immediately sent messengers to Solareg, 10 kilometers from Lierganes. There they found the noble hidalgo Dionisio Rubalcaba, as well as Gaspar Melchorro de Santiago, Knight of the Order of Santiago, and the Marquis de Valbuena. All three went personally to the Lerganesians, who could shed light on the appearance of the monster in Cadiz.
In just a few days, Dionisio Rubalcaba unearthed the story of the disappearance of Francisco de la Vega Casar, which had occurred five years earlier on the Miera River, and immediately alerted the Franciscan monastery, causing a great commotion there. In the first days of January 1680, the Man-Fish was transported to the Cantabrian village, for the suspicion that he was the missing carpenter was not unfounded.
Brother Juan Rosende undertook the responsible task of transporting the beast across the mountains. As soon as the cortege reached Deesa, the prisoner, as if driven by a mysterious instinct, dared to touch the ground with his foot. He seemed to recognize his surroundings. He staggered ahead of the church officials and entered Lierganes.
At last he found himself in front of the house of the de la Vega family. Old María Casar immediately recognized in him her son, who had disappeared five years before, and, bursting into tears, embraced him, and she was not slow to be joined by the brothers Tomás and Juan. The third brother, José, had left for Cadiz two months earlier and had never returned home.
The strange thing was that the Fish Man in no way expressed his joy at seeing his family. And remained silent for two years (according to other chronicles – nine), which he lived in his father’s house under the watchful eye of Dionisio Rubal Kaba.
Francisco de la Vega never became the same man. His life in Lierganes was confined to silent walking in the courtyard, occasionally interrupted by the unintelligible muttering of the words “bread” and “tobacco,” although there was no connection between their utterance and the actual smoking and eating. He preferred to stay in rags, could devour fish and raw meat for hours, and sometimes, on the contrary, would go for days without eating a bite.
He spent most of his time as a plant, lying flat on the ground. He never showed any interest in anything. One evening in 1682, however, he was startled when he heard someone shouting, and for no apparent reason he went straight to the waters of the Miera. Despite the peasants’ attempts to stop him, the Fish Man managed to slip out of his confinement and quickly plunged into the water again, this time for good….