Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey is a ruined Benedictine abbey overlooking the North Sea on the East Cliff above Whitby in North Yorkshire, England. It was disestablished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the auspices of Henry VIII. It is a Grade I Listed building in the care of English Heritage.

Streoneshalh

The first monastery was founded in 657 AD by the Anglo-Saxon era King of Northumbria, Oswy (Oswiu) as Streoneshalh (the older name for Whitby). He appointed Lady Hilda, abbess of Hartlepool Abbey and niece of Edwin the first Christian king of Northumbria, as founding abbess. The name Streoneshalh is thought to signify Fort Bay or Tower Bay in reference to a supposed Roman settlement that previously existed on the site. This contention has never been proven though and alternate theories have been proposed, such as the name meaning Streona's settlement. Some believe that the name referred to Eadric Streona, but this is highly unlikely due to chronological considerations: Streona died in 1017 so the naming of Streoneshalh would have preceded his birth by several hundred years.

The double monastery of Celtic monks and nuns was home to the great Northumbrian poet Caedmon. In 664 the Synod of Whitby, at which King Oswiu ruled that the Northumbrian church would adopt the Roman calculation of Easter and monastic tonsure took place at the abbey.

Streoneshalch was laid waste by Danes in successive raids between 867 and 870 under Ingwar and Ubba and remained desolate for more than 200 years. The existence of 'Prestebi', meaning the habitation of priests in Old Norse, at the Domesday Survey may point to the revival of religious life since Danish times. The old monastery given to Reinfrid comprised about 40 ruined monasteria vel oratoria similar to Irish monastic ruins with numerous chapels and cells.

Whitby

Reinfrid, a soldier of William the Conqueror, became a monk and travelled to Streoneshalh, which was then known as Prestebi or Hwitebi (the "white settlement" in Old Norse). He approached William de Percy who gave him the ruined monastery of St. Peter with two carucates of land, to start the new monastery. Serlo de Percy, the founder's brother, joined Reinfrid at the new monastery which followed the Benedictine rule.

The second monastery lasted until it was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The abbey buildings fell into ruins, and were mined for stone, but remained a prominent landmark for sailors and helped inspire Bram Stoker's Dracula. The ruins are now owned and maintained by English Heritage.

In 1914, Whitby Abbey was shelled by German battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger, aiming for the signal post on the end of the headland. Scarborough and Hartlepool were also attacked. The Abbey sustained considerable damage during the attack, which lasted ten minutes.

Abbey possessions

The original gift of William de Percy not only included the monastery of St. Peter at Streoneshalch, but the town and port of Whitby with its parish church of St. Mary and six dependent chapels at Fyling, Hawsker, Sneaton, Ugglebarnby, Dunsley, and Aislaby, five mills including Ruswarp, the town of Hackness with two mills and the parish church of St. Mary, and the church of St. Peter at Hackness 'where our monks served God, died, and were buried,' and various other gifts enumerated in the ' Memorial' in the abbot's book.

Priors and abbots

The first prior, Reinfrid, ruled for many years and was accidentally killed and buried at St Peter at Hackness. He was succeeded as prior by Serlo de Percy.

Notable burials
  • Oswiu of Northumbria, a King of Bernicia
  • Edwin of Deira, King of Deira and Bernicia, and a Saint
  • Eahlfrith, Oswiu's widow and an Abbess of Whitby
  • Ælflæd, daughter of Oswiu and Eahlfrith, also an Abbess of Whitby
Footnotes

Building Activity

  • removed 2 media
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com