Dominating the skyline, Whitby Abbey stands testament to the passing of centuries. Mid-way through the 7th century this area was ruled by the Christian King Oswy. Enmeshed in a struggle to defend his kingdom from the pagan Mercians, he vowed to build twelve monasteries and also that his daughter Aelfleda would enter the church if God would grant him aid. When he eventually defeated the Mercians near Leeds he stood by his word. He summoned the Abbess of Hartlepool, Hilda (more properly called Hild), gave the princess Aelfleda into her care and instructed her to travel to Whitby and found a monastery. The year was 657 AD.
Called Streonshalh, the monastery was raised on East Cliff. Built first in wood, later replaced by stone, the church and the living quarters formed the centre of the community. Both men and women entered for religious instruction, tuition so comprehensive that several of the novices later became dignitaries among them bishops of York, Hexham, Worcester and Dorchester. The philosopher Alcuin who is credited with starting the University of Paris is also said to have studied at Whitby. A witness of the time, William of Malmesbury, stated it was the largest of the monasteries
Below : a tinted postcard circa 1910 taken from the south-east, showing the abbey ruins stark against the sky