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Whitby Abbey

Whitby, Yorkshire

Featured Location Guide

Whitby Abbey is an historically important site that once housed a Celtic monastery later to become a double Benedictine monastery, having both nuns and monks. It has a place in history in relation to the change over from Celtic Christianity to the Roman Catholic faith and has inspired several others including the author of Dracula.

Whitby Abbey and Fishpond    Stephen McCulloch

For the photographer this high setting over Whitby harbour, headland setting, views, a nearby pond near the abbey and other opportunities will appear. Very little of the abbey beyond the abbey church remains, although the remains are substantial, and used for ship navigation.

It is said to be founded in 657, by the Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria, Oswy (Oswiu) as Streoneshalh, it was much later renamed to Whitby, his niece St Hilda, a princess of the Northumbrian royal house, whose Saxon name Hild means 'battle' was the founding Abbess, she was already the Abbess of Hartlepool Abbey. Recent archaeological research undertaken by English Heritage suggests that it was once a bustling settlement, as well as the burial place of the Northumbrian Royal family, the setting of an epoch-making international meeting between Celtic and Roman clerics, and the home of saints such as the poet Caedmon.

In 664, the abbey was the site of the 'Synod of Whitby', at which King Oswiu ruled that the Northumbrian Church would adopt the Roman calculation of Easter and monastic tonsure. Moving from the Celtic to Catholic form of Christianity. Up to this point the king and his predecessors had been part of the Celtic church but his wife came from a family that were a part of the catholic faith, and particularly celebrating Easter and other related events at different dates was difficult.

While there was a change over at a range of dates in different kingdoms across Britain going from the Celtic to Catholic format, this is seen as a major event as this involved the pulling together of different faiths. For the Celtic church this seemed minor, different dating calculations and a different way to cut their hair, and they gave in, it later is said to have resulted in the fading out of the earlier Celtic Christian form from general use. The Pope later decreed that those baptised to simply as Christians were not Christians, and that they had to all be baptised again in the name of the three, God, Son and Holy Ghost, which of course meant that all other pre existing bishops and priests ware non Christians and could be replaced by Catholics, a useful way to remove all who objected in any way to aspects of the roman religion as it swamped earlier Christianity.

The Abbey fell to the Vikings in 867 and was destroyed or abandoned.

Later in 1078 is was a refounded and rebuilt and dedicated to St Peter and St Hilda by Regenfrith (Reinferd) a soldier monk, on the orders of the Norman, William de Percy.

The name changed several times, it became Presteby (meaning the habitation of Priests in Old Norse) then Hwytby; next Whiteby, (meaning the "white settlement" in Old Norse, probably from the colour of the houses) and finally Whitby. From this we can see that the concept of the 'Synod of Whitby' may be questionable as Whitby did not exist at this earlier time, and possible that its a case of re-written history.

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East Facade
Trish Steel

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Whitby 99 Steps 
Derek Dye

The second monastery survived until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and was destroyed in 1540. It then was abandoned and used as a source of stone. It was left mainly intact as it was and still is used by shipping for navigation purposes. The site then passed to the Cholmley family, who built a mansion largely out of materials plundered from the monastery.

A visitor centre now sits within the walls of the Cholmley family mansion, part of a major interpretation and access project encompassing the whole of the headland, hailed as one of the most important archaeological sites in England. One of the aims of the project has been to enhance and protect the natural beauty and historic character of this headland. English Heritage's research excavations have added to our understanding of Whitby's complex history, including the discovery of a rare 17th Century 'hard garden', inspired by Cholmley's visits to France and Spain and now restored. Continuing research may yield further insights into this multi-layered site.

The visitor centre 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 periods 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 been inspired by the Abbey, from St Hilda to Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

See Larger Image Click on the smaller images to see larger versions

See Larger Image Pillars and Arches
Trish Steel
See Larger Image St Mary's Church 
Philip Pankhurst


Further information Grid



Whitby Abbey, Whitby, Yorkshire

Ceremonial County: Yorkshire

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Aerial photo: Google Aerial  



Best Times to Visit:






Other useful websites:


Nearby Locations: Whitby Lighthouse, Yorkshire 
Other Relevant pages: Abbey Section, including all major Christian buildings, regions orders, normal layouts and history.


Planning Grid


Whitby Abbey, Whitby, Yorkshire

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

On cliff top, E of Whitby. Road access from town centre via Bridge Street, left into Church Street and the right into Church Lane which feeds straight into Abbey Lane by the ruins.


From the Whitby harbour area, the abbey can only be directly reached on foot via the 199 'abbey steps' (or Caedmon's Trod), but you can also get there by road by taking a longer route around by car, see above.


Parking in main car park is chargeable.


Toilets, Picnic Area, Shop

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Buildings, architecture, views particularly of the town below and coastal.

What to take:

Tripod, level, wide angle lens.

Nature highlights:

Aylesbury Abbey Ducks


Abbey Lane


North Yorkshire


YO22 4JT



Opening times:

1 Apr-30 Sep 10am-6pm Daily

1 Oct-24 Oct 10am-4pm Thu-Mon  25 Oct-31 Oct Daily

1 Nov-31 Mar 10am-4pm Thu-Mon

Closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan


English Heritage: Free to members
Adults 6, Children 3.60, Concessions 5.40; Family 15.60

Photo Restrictions:


Other Restrictions:  
Special Needs Access: Access to grounds via lift from visitors centre. Grass paths around ruins. Ramped entrance to site.
Special Needs Facilities: Toilets in car park
Children Facilities:  
Dogs Allowed: On leads in restricted areas only

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Keith Park  Section: Abbeys Key:
Page Ref: Whitby_Abbey Topic: Abbeys Last Updated: 02/2011


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