The ruins of Whitby Abbey, perched high on the East Cliff of the seaside town of Whitby, are visible from almost anywhere in town. Historically and religiously, Whitby Abbey has a lot to brag about: it was the home of a Saxon saint and a place of pilgrimage; it was the site of a 7th-century council that set the date of Easter for Britain; and it was the setting for Bram Stoker's Dracula.
History of Whitby Abbey
The abbey that still (mostly) stands dates from the 12th century, but lies near the site of a 7th-century Saxon monastery. Caedmon, the first identifiable English-language poet, was a monk here. It was on this site in 664 AD that it was decided to follow the Roman Catholic church instead of the Celtic Church with regard to the date of Easter.
The first abbey was founded in 657 by the formidable St Hilda, a princess of the Northumbrian royal house, whose Saxon name means "battle." Recent archaeological research undertaken by English Heritage suggests that it was once a bustling settlement as well as the burial place of monarchs.
The Saxon abbey was destroyed during a Viking invasion in 867, but one of William the Conqueror's knights refounded it in the late 1070s as a Benedictine abbey. By 1220, his Norman church proved inadequate for the many pilgrims, and the building of the present abbey church began.
After its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1538, the abbey did not suffer as much destruction as many other monasteries, for it was (and still is) used by shipping as a navigation marker. The site eventually passed to the Cholmley family, who built a mansion nearby largely out of materials plundered from the monastery.
What to See at Whitby Abbey
The clifftop ruins of Whitby Abbey consist primarily of a grand roofless nave, soaring south transept and lancents of the east end of the abbey church. None of the monastic buildings remain. On the east side of the ruins are Saxon tombstones lying in a shallow ditch where they were found.
The visitor's center houses archaeological material excavated at Whitby, as well as computer-generated images revealing how the headland has changed over time. Rich finds from the Anglo-Saxon and medieval abbeys are also exhibited, together with objects relating to the Cholmley family.
Spectacular audio-visual displays recreate the medieval abbey and the 17th-century house, its interiors and gardens. Visitors can also gain an insight into the people who have lived in Whitby, from St Hilda to Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.
Quick Facts on Whitby Abbey
|Whitby Abbey · Whitby Abbey (ruins)
|churches; abbeys; literary sites; scenic settings; coastal settings; ruins; Grade I listed buildings; England's Thousand Best Churches: Four Stars
|Catholicism; Benedictine Order
|Early English style; Celtic
|Visitor and Contact Information
|54.488300° N, 0.607453° W
|View hotels near Whitby Abbey
- Photos of Whitby Abbey - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Whitby Abbey
Below is a location map and aerial view of Whitby Abbey. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.