EXPERIENCE WHITBY ABBEY
Whitby Abbey is one of the most atmospheric locations in England. The desolate ruins stand stark above steep cliffs overlooking the old whaling village of Whitby in North Yorkshire, a testament to the town's former religious significance.
The abbey was founded in 656, and was the site of the Synod of Whitby in 664, when a vote was held to decide if the church should adopt the Celtic or Roman date for Easter. The vote favoured the Roman date and this led to a decline in Celtic Christianity. The abbey's influence decreased in the 9th century, and it was destroyed and looted in the bloody Viking raids of 867. In the late 11th Century a Norman knight came to Whitby and was inspired to rebuild the abbey, which continued as a place of monastic life until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Tradition holds that Henry's men had the abbey bells loaded onto a ship, which sank - in heavenly retribution - not long after it had left the shore. In bygone years young lovers would listen for the sound of the bells in the depths, as this was thought to be a fortunate omen for their future.
Whitby itself is steeped in folklore and legend, which, along with the abbey's foreboding ruins are said to have provided inspiration for Bram Stoker's gothic masterpiece Dracula. In the book Whitby is the destination for the doomed ship Demeter, which carries Dracula to England.
The first Abbess of the abbey, St Hilda, became a focus for folklore and legend through the centuries and was said to have performed many miraculous deeds. Tradition tells how she rid the town of snakes, lopping off their heads with her enchanted whip. Fossil ammonites, frequently found on the shore, were once seen as the headless remains of these petrified snakes.
The Abbey was home to Caedmon, the earliest recorded English poet. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals, during the abbacy (657–680) of St. Hilda. He was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream or vision from God, according to the 8th-century monk Bede. He later became a zealous monk and an accomplished and inspirational religious poet.