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Yorkshire Whitby Abbey

The dramatic ruins of Whitby Abbey stand proud above the town, silhouetted against the sky.

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The first monastery was founded by King Oswy of Northumbria. This housed both monks and nuns with Hilda, a Saxon princess, as Abbess. The monastery became on of the most important religious centres and hosted the Synod of Whitby in 664 intended to reconcile differences between the Roman and Celtic branches of Christianity and determine the future direction of the English Church. Nothing remains of the Saxon monastery which was destroyed by the Danes in the C10th, apart from some Saxon tombstones which have been reset in the grass on the seaward side of the abbey ruins.

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The Abbey was re-established as a Benedictine Abbey in 1078 by Reinfrid, one of William the Conqueror’s knights who had become a monk. There is nothing left of Reinfrid’s original church, although St Mary’s Church built nearby as the parish church still survives and is older than the present abbey ruins.

Work on a new abbey church began in 1220, starting with at the east end. The north and south transepts followed along with the central tower. Money ran out during the building of the nave and this wasn’t finished until the C14th. The windows at the west end of the nave are Decorated in style rather than Early English. The great west window is C15th.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1539, the buildings and land were bought by Richard Cholmley, a major land owner in Yorkshire, whose family lived in the abbey house until the C18th. The house was rebuilt and extended using stones from the domestic buildings of the abbey. This is now the Visitor Centre with an exhibition about the abbey.

The church was left standing as it served as a landmark to sailors. The elements attacked and weakened the stonework. The nave, south transept and the west front collapsed in the C18th. The tower collapsed in the C19th. There was further damage when the ruins were shelled by the German Navy in 1914.

In the C19th, the abbey ruins were the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Gothic novel ‘Dracula’.

Little remains of monastic buildings, apart from humps in the ground. The east end and north transept still stand to nearly their full height and are excellent examples of Early English Gothic architecture with their tall, thin lancet windows. The north transept has a small circular window at the top of the walls.



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Inside the north transept, there is blind arcading round the base of the walls. There is a small aumbry cupboard on the north wall for storing sacred vessels and a stairway in the corner turret gave access to the triforium round the top of the transept.

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The details of the windows, triforium with its dog tooth decoration, and clerestory reflect the wealth of the monastery during its building.

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There is a narrow side aisle on either side of the chancel.

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The east end of the nave stands to its full height, but there is little left of the nave and west end, apart from the base of the pillars.

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The west door was originally highly carved.

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The top part of three of the nave arches have been rebuilt against the modern exterior wall of the site.

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In many ways, there isn’t a lot to see inside the abbey and it is possible to get good views and take pictures without having to pay the entrance fee, particularly from the public car park. The Abbey ruins are now in the care of English Heritage. It is open weekends in the winter months and all week during the rest of the year. There is a large public car park to the east of the ruins, or they can be approached from the town up the 199 steps.

The pictures were either taken on a dull damp February day or in June.
 
Last edited:

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Visitor Centre - the Anglo Saxon remains

Sir Richard Cholmley, a major landowner, bought the abbey buildings and land after the Dissolution of the monasteries and lived in the Abbey House. Sir Hugh Cholmley built a grand new wing in the C17th and laid out the entrance courtyard to provide a formal approach to the house and to emphasise his social standing. The original abbey house was used to house the kitchens and service rooms.

The Cholmleys moved away in the C18th and the roof of the house as blown off during a gale in 1790. The abbey ruins passed to the Strickland family who added a C19th wind for use as a holiday house. This is now a youth hostel.

The Cholmley Buildings have been restored recently although without the original pitched roof and cross bar glazing, and are now part of the new visitor centre with an exhibition of artefacts from the site. A replica of the famous Borghese gladiator has been placed in the courtyard, replacing the statue that originally stood here.

The building is now the ticket office and shop with an exhibition of artefacts found from the site.

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Although there are no visible remains of the Anglo-Saxon monastery, geophysical surveys indicate substantial buried remains. A lot of Anglo-Saxon artefacts have been found. These include a baluster shaft providing the central support for a window opening.

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There are fragments of carved crosses.

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This carved stone is thought to commemorate Abbess Aelfled who died here around 714AD.

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This may have been part of the side of a coffin.

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There are some beautiful examples of metal working including these book clasps and mounts

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and a strap end.

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Bone combs were also carefully carved and decorated, indicating high status.

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There are examples of everyday objects like loom weights, pins, needles and a bone sharpener.

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Another display includes spoons, bone knife handle, carved ivory pendant, a bone tuning peg from a string instrument like a lyre, tweezers and a key.

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Cont...
 

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Visitor Centre - Medieval and later artefacts

There are more stone remains from the early abbey, like the remains of this stone cross, stone boss and corbel heads.

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There is a medieval tile.

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And pieces of medieval window glass.

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There are personal belongings like the lead and jet crosses.
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There are the remains of leather shoes .

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And a horseshoe, spur and part of the harness.

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C16th artefacts from the Cholmleys include bits of pottery and a beautiful flagon.

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