Whitby Abbey is a ruined Benedictine abbey sited on the East Cliff, 199 steps above Whitby harbour in North Yorkshire on the north-east coast of England.
It was founded in 657 AD by the Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria, Oswy (Oswiu) as Streoneshalh (the historical name of the town Whitby where the abbey is located). He appointed Lady Hilda, abbess of Hartlepool Abbey and niece of Edwin the first Christian king of Northumbria, as founding Abbess. The name Streoneshalh is thought to signify Fort Bay or Tower Bay in reference to a supposed Roman settlement that previously existed on the site. This contention has never been proven though and alternate theories have been proposed, such as the name meaning Streona’s settlement; a reference to Eadric Streona. This is highly unlikely though due to chronological considerations: Streona died in 1017 so the naming of Streoneshalh would have preceded his birth by several hundred years.
The double monastery of Benedictine monks and nuns was also home to the great Saxon 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.
In 867, the abbey fell to Viking attack, and was abandoned.
William de Percy ordered that the abbey be refounded (1078) by Regenfrith (Reinferd) a soldier monk, dedicating it to St. Peter and St. Hilda. Later 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.
The second monastery lasted until it was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The abbey buildings fell into ruins, and were mined for stone, but remained a prominent landmark for sailors and helped inspire Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The ruins are now owned and maintained by English Heritage.