Whitby Abbey - a proud legacy
It is today a ruin - one of the most famous in Yorkshire.
But centuries ago the impressive pile that is Whitby Abbey was a landmark of assurance to fishermen and traders plying the eastern coast of England.
Join us on a walk through time to take a look at a building which dominates one of our most picturesque towns...
Writing in 1908 Abbot Gasquet said: "It is difficult to imagine a more impressive sight than the abbey must have presented to ships before the 16th Century wreckers had dismanteld and defaced it. The church was 300ft by 69ft with transepts 1250ft across. "The central tower rose far into the air to serve as a landmark by day, whilst at night the lights of St Hilda's tower shone far out to sea to guide and cheer those who sailed in ships over that long stretch of water without a harbour..."
The story of Whitby - once known as Streaneshalch which mean Lighthouse Bay - goes back to the early days of Saxon Christianity - around the 7th Century.
St Hilda, to whom the abbey is dedicated, ruled a double community of men and women at the monastery in Streaneshalch. But its days were numbered. Danish invaders stormed and took York on November 1, 867 and spread across the area plundering and destroying and leaving every monastery and church a heap of smoking ruins. The abbey of St Hilda "perished utterly."
When the abbey next rose Streaneshalch had become Whitby - and had been granted the dues of a port or haven. The population at this time - around 1100 - was about 36. Between 1109 and 1127 the monastery was created an abbey but a few years later was plundered and partially destroyed by pirates from Norway.
Whitby Abbey came to an inglorious end following its surrender to King Henry on December 14, 1540. A historian would later write: "After being plundered of the wood, the timber and the lead upon its roof and also of its bells and everything else belonging thereto that could be sold, it was left standing with its stone walls, a mere skeleton of what it had formerly been, to crumble away by degrees into dust or to form a heap of rubbish which might merely show passengers in future ages that there Whitby formerly stood. It is true that some part of this lead was laid upon the church of St Mary, which was still permitted to be the parish church of Whitby and which seems till then to have had only a thatched roof; but that lead was only a small part of the whole, and all the remainder was carried away and converted into money."
Written by The Editor - 14/03/2001 16:29:33
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