Based on Bede’s ‘Life of Cuthbert’. Bede was about fifteen when Cuthbert died in 687.
Coldingham (today just across the Scottish border) was at one time home to a monastery for men and women. The Abbess was Ebbe, who as it happens was also a princess – a real historical fact. She invited Cuthbert to stay there for a few days.
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.