Whitby Abbey

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

Site Information
Names:Whitby Abbey · Whitby Abbey (ruins)
Categories:churches; abbeys; literary sites; scenic settings; coastal settings; ruins; Grade I listed buildings; England's Thousand Best Churches: Four Stars
Faiths:Catholicism; Benedictine Order
Styles:Early English style; Celtic
Status: ruins
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:54.488300° N, 0.607453° W
Address:Abbey Lane
Whitby, England
Phone:01947 603568
Hours:daily 10am-6pm
Lodging:View hotels near Whitby Abbey
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

More Information

© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes
Whitby Abbey becomes even more atmospheric at sunset. © Pie Girl

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.