Who would have thought that a Gothic ruins of an Abbey in Yorkshire would lead me to the earliest named English poet? Apparently, between 658 and 680, Streaneschalch ( later Whitby) Monastery gave rise to the works of an illiterate cowherd named Caedmon, an Anglo-Saxon. He couldn’t sing and knew no poetry. One night in a dream, a vison commanded him to write the beginning of created things into a poem. From then on he not only sang with the choir and used words unknown to him, but recalled every verse. The Venerable Bede (672 to May 735), renowned historian, wrote of Caedmon in his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, the Ecclesiastical History of the English people. Fragments of Caedmon’s Hymn on Creation survive in Bede’s Latin translation.
The remains of Whitby Abbey, a jewel set against sea and sky, has inspired poets for nearly a thousand years. The stained glass may be missing, and the interior paving-stones have given way to mown grass, but remnants of its Gothic splendour continue to delight.
The history of the site is complex. In 867Ad Whitby fell to Viking Invaders. The first Saxon Monastery was destroyed in 1078. A Benedictine Monastery was rebuilt on the site. The current ruins date to around 1220. King Henry Viii confiscated the abbey and its possessions during the dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1500s. An imposing structure remains, a weathered and worn remnant of her former glory, stark, yet beautiful, against the cloud-brushed sky.