“A Most Noble Ruin” – A Brief History of Whitby Abbey

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Whitby Abbey

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Do you know the connection between Whitby Abbey, and the Louvre in Paris? Not many people know that the two share a link, but it is in the Louvre Museum that the original bronze Borghese Gladiator statue resides. This statue once stood guard at Whitby Abbey and in 2009 a replica of it was installed at the crumbling, romantic ruins.

Founded in 657 by St Hilda, the Abbey has seen many changes. It has been a burial site for kings, the home of the poet Caedmon, and the setting for a famous meeting between Celtic and Roman clerics. The monastery was totally destroyed by Vikings between 867 and 870, and lay unused for 200 years, until the Norman Conquest. Later, in 1078, William de Percy donated land to the Abbey, so that a Benedictine monastery could be built. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539 it once again fell silent.

It has been dubbed England’s most romantic ruin, and there is a certain mystique and magic about its history. It has inspired writers and artists, whose fascination with it has ensured the Abbey has never been short of pilgrims. Bram Stoker was inspired by its Gothic charm, and included the following reference to it in his book, Dracula. Here, the character Mina tells us a little more of the history of the site:

“Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes, and which is the scene of part of “Marmion,” where the girl was built up in the wall. It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows.”

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897).

Today, if you are feeling energetic, you can climb the 199 steps that lead up to the Abbey. There is an informative and engaging English Heritage Visitor experience Centre nearby, so that you can learn more about the site’s extensive history. You can see some photos of the Abbey, the statue and the visitor centre at this site. Why not see if you can glimpse the white lady as you stroll around?

Useful Visitor Information

Website: www.english-heritage.org.uk/whitbyabbey

Open on Bank Holidays (Summer) Closed 24-26 31 December and 1 January.
From 1st April, check the English Heritage website for opening hours

Ticket Prices

Adults £6.40
Concession £5.80
Children £3.80
Family Ticket £16.60 (2 adults + 3 Children)
Free entry for English Heritage members and Overseas Visitor Pass holders.

Map reference: NZ 901112  Lat: 54.48815 Long: -0.61064