Whitby Abbey – where the birds bow in honour

What is fascinating with Medieval times is that it allows you to one day be emerged in the last days of the Plantagenet dynasty and the next day take a real nose dive a couple or more centuries further back in time, which is what I intend to do today.

Whitby_Abbey_image-Chris KirkThe destination of my dive is, as it now known, Whitby Abbey but not the ruin, even if beautiful, it is today, but the place it was at the time of The Synod at Whitby.

I won´t go in too much into the Synod itself even if it was interesting enough and I most likely will write about it at some point, but right now I will just state that King Oswiu – had it his way and that Easter was thereafter celebrated in accordance with the principles of Rome.

But the Abbey itself, or as it was then called; Hilda´s double monastery of Streanæshalch. Hilda is a ChristianSt_Hilda saint who was also the founding abbess of the monastery. She is said by Bede – a monk and author who through his work Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum – has been called the father of English history, to have been born in 614, as the second daughter of Hereric, nephew of Edwin of Northumbria, and his wife Breguswith.

The choice of her monastery as the place for the Synod of Whitby says something about the reputation of the monastery and even of Hilda herself. She died after several years of fever and today she is the patron saint of culture and learning. According to legend, the sea birds, when flying over the abbey, dip their wings in honour of St. Hilda.

Whitby AbbeyThe ruin of the abbey which can be seen today is not the abbey of St Hilda, the entire Streanæshalch was laid to vaste by the danes in consecutive raids between 867 and 870, and the abbey was left to decay for more than 200 years before the earlier soldier of William the Conqueror, Reinfrid, became a monk and travelled to Streanæshalch, which at the time had become known as Prestibi or Hwitebi (meaning “The White Settlement” in old Norse). He approached William de Percy who gave him the ruined monastery of St Peter and two curucates – a medieval measurement of land – to found a new monastery which followed the Benedictine order.

This second monastery lasted until 1538 when it was destroyed in Henry VIII:s dissolution of the monasteries. ApartWhitby_Abbey_at_sunset-Ackers72 from time, not much disturbed the remains of the abbey until World War I, when it was shelled by German battlecruisers Von Der Tann and Derfflinger which were aiming for a signal post on the headland.

The abbey also play a part in Bram Stokers Dracula as he in the shape of a large dog walks up the 99 stairs leading to the abbey when arriving in England.

One of the notable persons buried at the abbey is Oswiu, once the initiator of the Synod of Whitby.





Sources: Hilda of Whitby – Kate Lindemann

Oxford Dictionary of English


Images: St. Hilda – Weglinde

Whitby Abbey, top to bottom:

Chris Kirk

Mike Peel


James Whitesmith






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