IT was Cuthbert’s habit to walk alone down to the seashore after dark. Intrigued, one of the monks followed him at a discreet distance, hoping to see what it was that Cuthbert did at dead of night.
From his hiding place he watched Cuthbert wade out into the slate-black sea until the waters reached his neck, and then begin to sing psalms, a performance which he kept up until dawn.*
The monk was still watching when back on the sands, Cuthbert became absorbed in prayer again. Suddenly, two otters scampered over to him and chafed his feet, numb with North Sea cold, and dried them with their fur. Cuthbert gave them his affectionate blessing, and they made off back to their homes.
The monk-spy could barely collect sufficient wits to find his way back to the monastery. Next morning, after confessing the whole story to Cuthbert, he promised to tell no one until after Cuthbert’s death.
Down on the south coast, pagan communities regarded the sea as the realm of Wotan (Odin), god of death, and dared not even fish in it. See St Wilfrid and the Fishers of Men. Cuthbert’s night-time vigil would have appeared to them an act of reckless defiance, and the service of the otters supreme wizardry.
A young monk followed St Cuthbert to see what he did down on the beach at night. He watched the saint pray in the sea until dawn. Then, to the spy’s astonishment, two otters suddenly ran out to Cuthbert, warmed and dried his feet with their fur, and after receiving his blessing, scampered off again. (55 / 60 words)