St. Cuthbert and the Otters

St. Cuthbert was born in 635 and eventually became a monk and served as prior of both Lindisfarne Priory and Melrose Abbey. He traveled to remote, rugged locations in order to preach. He also loved to keep long prayer vigils in wild places. Often he would stay with the monks at the Abbey of Colding-ham, which was perched on a steep cliff overlooking the sea.

Late at night, after all of the monks had fallen asleep, he would sometimes sneak out of the monastery and head out to the sea, where he would wade into the water up to his neck, raise his arms to the sky, and pray with the rhythm of the waves. Although the monks realized that his bed was often empty, they were not entirely clear about what he did during his late-night adventures. One night, a monk decided to follow him discreetly, hoping that he would not be caught.

This is what he saw: Cuthbert waded deep into the sea, praying in his customary fashion. He prayed all through the night, and at the first light of dawn he returned to the shore and knelt for more prayer. When Cuthbert emerged from the sea he wasn't alone. He was followed by two otters, who panted on Cuthbert's feet to dry them, and snuggled against his body to try to warm him with their fur.


The eighth-century Lindisfarne Gospels were stored in Cuthbert's shrine for many years. They were lost at sea as the monks fled, fearing invasion. In a vision, they saw St. Cuthbert, who told them where to look. Three days later, they found the intact book, and to this day scientistsbelieve that the stains on the book are from salt water.

The otters stayed with Cuthbert as he completed his prayer, kneeling before him in the sand. They did not depart until he offered them his blessing. The monk who had witnessed this remarkable sight was terrified. He could barely walk and stumbled several times on his way back to the monastery. There he watched Cuthbert pray the morning hours with the brother monks, and he knew he had to confess.

That morning, he fell on the ground before Cuthbert, weeping. St. Cuthbert said, “What is it, brother? What have you done?” The monk confessed to having followed him. St. Cuthbert offered his forgiveness on one condition — that he not share what he had seen until after his death. The monk agreed to this and kept the secret for all of Cuthbert's days. After the saint died in 687, the monk shared the story with anyone who would listen.

After St. Cuthbert's death, a shrine was created to house his bones on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, in England. When, in 875, fear of a Danish invasion threatened the monastery, the monks packed up Cuthbert's relics. They carried the relics with them for seven years, until they were provided with a safe church to house them in. St. Cuthbert is commemorated on March 20.

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