Christoph Fürer’s Egyptian Mermaid

In November 1565, Christoph Fürer saw the skin of an Egyptian mermaid in Tura, Egypt (present-day El Tor) while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Fürer’s full name was Christoph Fürer von Haimendorf (1541-1610). He was a councilman and later senator of the Free Imperial City of Nuremberg within the Holy Roman Empire. From 1563 to 1566, Fürer traveled across Italy, the Holy Land, North Africa, and several Mediterranean islands. Fürer was 22 years old when he made his journey and his voyage  resembled what would later be called the Grand Tour, the multi-year right-of-passage trip across Europe that many aristocratic young men took in the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries.

He wrote about his travels in Latin but his manuscript was not published until 1620, ten years after his death. It appeared as Itinerarium Aegypti, Arabiae, Palaestinae, Syriae, aliarumque Regionum Orientalium (Nuremberg 1620), which roughly translates to Itinerary of Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, Syria, and other Oriental Regions.

Engraving of Mount Sinai (center) and the monastery of Saint Catherine (right). The chapel of the Burning Bush is in the foreground in Christop Fürer, Iterarium Aegypti etc. (Nuremberg, 1620).

In the days prior to seeing the mermaid in Tura, Fürer traveled to important religious sites on the Sinai Peninsula including the tomb of St. Catherine, the rock where Moses struck his rod to produce water, and the cave where Aaron made the Golden Calf.

Fürer’s account of the mermaid was stated as fact in the same fashion as he described the religious sites he visited at the same time:

In hac urbe pellem Sirenis multos ante annos hoc loco capæ hodieq’; refervant quæ inferiori sui parte in caudam piscis desinit, superius verò umbilicus tantum cum mammillis adhuc superest, brachia caputuq; amissa.

In 1625, Samuel Purchas synthesized Fürer’s work into English and published it within an editorialized entry that includes the works of three other pilgrims who traveled to Egypt and the Holy Land at other times. The Fürer account appeared in volume 2 of Purchas his Pilgrimes.

Purchas’ translation of Fürer’s account:

In this Citie wee saw a Mermaids skinne taken there many yeares before, which in the lower parts ends Fish-fashion: of the vpper part, onely the Nauill and Breats remaine, the armes and head being lost.

Christoph Fürer’s Egyptian mermaid was old, “taken there many years before.” Its lower body resembled a fish and it’s upper body a human. Only the tail, stomach, and breasts survived and its arms and head were lost.

He doesn’t mention where he saw the skin. Was it a religious house, in a merchant’s store, a government building?

Fürer was not alone in seeing mermaids in the early-modern period. Christopher Columbus encountered one in the Caribbean in 1493, and so did Richard Whitbourne in Newfoundland in 1610.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.