A digitised version of the 1885 publication “Legends and Superstitions of the Sea and of Sailors in All Lands and at All Times” by Fletcher S. Bassett
Early art works such as the early European book plate of St Cuthbert and the Sea Creatures show that human beings have centuries old beliefs in sea creatures interacting with humanity – sometimes in a predatory way – but often in a way that is supportive and nurturing.
The original 12th century text presents the experience of Cuthbert as a miracle – as fish come to groom the feet of this renowned mystic and scholar. However, fish regularly clean one another, and in many of the world’s cultures it has long been known that fish will clean the human body. The fish are not ‘respecting’ Cuthbert because of his unique and spiritual qualities – as may have been believed at that time. They are simply feeding off a larger species: humans are engaging in a symbiotic relationship, by being cleaned, gently, meticulously and effectively by fish.
Source: A miniature in the British Library: Yates Thomson MS 26, Bede’s Prose Life of St Cuthbert, depicting the miracle where sea-creatures tend to Cuthbert’s feet before a watching cleric. Late 12th Century.
Source: British Library Yates Thomson MS 26 folio 24, printed as Plate 12 in Dominic Marner. St Cuthbert: His Life and Cult in Medieval Durham (British Library, 2000)
Attribution: By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
English: Having feet cleaned by doctor fish (Garra rufa) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.