Feijoo wrote that in the village of Liérganes, not far from the city of Santander, lived a humble family formed by Francisco de la Vega, Maria del Casar and their four children. When the husband died and the widow was in charge of the children, she managed to place the second son-also called Francisco-as apprentice carpenter in Bilbao. According to what Doña María was told by the workers, on June 20, 1674, young Francisco went swimming in the estuary of Bilbao, moving away from his co-workers until they completely lost sight of him. But since they knew Francisco was an excellent swimmer they did not worry; only when the whole day passed and he did not appear, they thought he drowned.
Five years later, fishermen fishing in the bay of Cádiz spotted a strange creature which looked like a human being that kept appearing and disappearing from the surface. After observing the creature for several days without being able to catch it, they finally managed it by using a bait and several nets. It turned out to be a young, corpulent man with a pale complexion and red, sparse hair; his nails were also corroded by saltpeter. The most eye-catching thing about his physique was some kind of scales that covered part of his chest and backbone.
The fishermen took the young man to Cadiz to the convent of San Francisco, delivering him to the monks. They spoke to him in various languages until they got him to utter the word “lierganes.” The news of the appearance of such a strange man and that he could only pronounce a word quickly spread among the people of Cadiz. The friars finally discovered that Liérganes was a small town in Cantabria. It so happened that the secretary of the local tribunal of the Inquisition in Cádiz was originally from there, so he could write to an acquaintance in Liérganes to ask if they were missing someone. They replied that nothing remarkable had happened there, except for the drowning of young Francisco in Bilbao, five years ago. In order to make sure it wasn’t the same person, Franciscan friar Juan Rosendo took the strange young man to the vicinity of Liérganes; and a few kilometers away from the village he told him to go ahead. He started walking without hesitation towards the house of Maria del Casar; the woman and two of her children recognized him immediately; he was the missing Francisco.
The young man stayed with his family, but without getting to communicate with them. He was only able to say a few words: “bread”, “tobacco”, “wine”, but without relating them to his needs. Francisco never managed to have regular habits; he could go four or five days without eating and then eat avidly a lot at once. Francisco de la Vega neither got used to wearing clothes or shoes; he walked naked and barefoot. It is said that nine years after, he disappeared while swimming in the sea and nobody heard more about him.
They could have offered some money to any unscrupulous person to take him as a servant, ordering him to bring “tobacco”, “bread” and “wine”, the only words that Francisco would repeat when he returned. It is also possible that by reaching Cádiz, young Francisco started searching among the bay’s estuaries, abundant in nutrients, algae, seafood and fish. He probably ended living there and surviving from what he was catching. As a consequence he was receiving large amounts of iodine (although too late in its physical evolution to reverse the damage already produced in its organism). For a “creature” like the fish man of Liérganes nothing better than the warmness of the bay of Cádiz. It was a pity that he was caught by the charitable fishermen and ended up to the cold mountain of Cantabria. This made the fish man of Liérganes an additional economic burden and an embarrassment to his family. Who knows if they intentionally made him “disappear” again in the sea…
Text by Ignacio Suárez-Zuloaga and illustrations by Ximena Maier