Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Whitby Abbey (Whitby)

Whitby Abbey today appears as an enormous evocative ruin high up on the East Cliff at the historic seaport and resort of Whitby in Yorkshire.

The original abbey was founded by St. Hilda in 657, on land that had been given to her by the King of Northumbria. It became known as the Lantern of the North.

The abbey was the setting in 664 for the Synod of Whitby, called by King Oswy of Northumbria to decide whether England would follow the practices of the Celtic church or those of the Roman church. St. Colman of Lindisfarne led the Celtic side, and St. Wilfrid of Hexham and Ripon, an able lawyer in addition to his ecclesiastical talents, led the Roman faction. St. Cedd, the evangelist of Essex, acted as interpreter. Wilfrid and the Roman side won, deciding many things, including the way we compute the date of Easter.

Around the same time, the illiterate cowherd Caedmon was inspired to write beautiful verse, the earliest known Christian poetry in the English language.

The original abbey was destroyed in 867 during Danish raids, but a Benedictine abbey was established on the site in 1220. Today's sandstone ruins are 13th century.

Whitby Abbey and the nearby St. Mary's Church are reached by 199 steps from sea level.

The abbey is now in the care of English Heritage.

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