Friday, May 24 2024

Whitby’s earliest record for settlement was noted in 656 AD. Founded by king Oswiu of Northumbria, Whitby Abbey was constructed in AD 657 in Streonshal facing the North Sea. Whitby Abbey was an act of reverence for defeating Mercia’s pagan king, Penda.

Known as a “double monastery” for both women and men, the Abbey was known as a learning center; and the royal princess Hild became its first Abbess and later named a saint. It was here that Caedmon, whose poetry is an inspiration to Anglo-Saxon literature, was “miraculously” transformed from a cowherd to a poet.

Between the years of 867 and 870 Whitby Abbey was destroyed due to the merciless raiding of the Denmark Vikings led by Ubba and Ingwar. Left to ruin for over 200 years until the Norman Conquest in 1066, William de Percy was granted possession of the land; and he later donated the land for the use of a Benedictine monastery in 1078.

Under his donation, St. Mary’s Church, Whitby’s town and port, 5 mills, and the chapels of Hawsker, Uglebarnby, Dunsley, Aislaby, Sneaton, and Fyling were turned over in honor to St. Peter and St. Hilda. During this time, Henry I held two important fairs during the feast of St. Hilda, one on August 25 and the other during the winter feast. Finally, on a sad day in December 1539 Henry VIII forced Whitby Abbey to surrender and dissolved the monastery.

Modern day Whitby Abbey is run by the suffragan bishop of the Church of England, which lies in the Central Vicariate of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough.

Some interesting facts about Whitby Abbey are that nearby along the coast dinosaur footprints can be seen; and several fossils, containing petrified crocodile and plesiosaurus specimen, litter the strata rock. Additionally, in 1885, a Russian schooner named Demeterran crashed into the Whitby harbor with everyone, except a black dog, dead on aboard. The dog quickly got the term “being taken by vampires” when it ran up the 199 steps of Whitby Abbey. Bram Stoker noted this and formed concept of a book named Dracula, for which the Abbey will be forever connected with.

Photo by Neil_Henderson

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