Christ the Dog, and the True History of Whitby

'And did those feet, in ancient times, walk upon England's mountains green?' asked William Blake a few years back.  Well, Mr Blake, I can confirm that they did, and they did so in the North Yorkshire port of Whitby.

Whitby Abbey

According to local legend, Jesus came ashore at Whitby one windswept night, disguised as a large black dog.  He had used His canine cover to stow away on a jet-powered ship belonging to the famous Whitby explorer, Captain James T. Kirk, not wanting to be seen by non-immortal hand or eye, worried that they would frame his fearful symmetry*.

His reason for coming to this small north-eastern fishing town was to bring a gift of rare Middle Eastern animals to the lady in charge of Whitby Abbey.  She was called Hilda Ogden and was known far and wide for being wise and just. She also welcomed all creatures, great and small, so Jesus was sure she would appreciate His new additions to her menagerie.

Unfortunately, it being a dark, filthy night, the wind howling round the hilltop and the waves battering the shore, when a big black dog arrived at the front door of the Abbey with a mouthful of writhing snakes, Hilda was not impressed.  She shooed the dog away, calling it a stupid hound, and - for good measure - turned the snakes to stone and cast them over the cliffs.

Most chastized by His reception, and ashamed by His poor judgement, Jesus snuck off again with His tail between His legs, cadging a ride on the first Whitby whaling boat back to the Holy Land.  He asked His friends never to mention the incident again.

St Hilda of Whitby and her famously ammonitic hairdo

When word got through of how Hilda had saved the monks of Whitby Abbey from a mad dog with a mouthful of snakes, God - who was oblivious to the true story, or else just overlooking His son's foolishness - immediately turned her into a saint, and also named the petrified snakes in her honour.

All of which is why visitors from across the world come to Whitby every year to collect Ogdenites, to learn of Captain Kirk, and to hear the tales of the slavering ship-borne hound that struck fear into the town's inhabitants, blissfully unaware of the role that Jesus Himself played in the story.

*this is covered more extensively in another of Blake's poetic works.