Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Whitby Abbey, England

One sign of autumn being here is universities starting. It was the Freshers Fayre yesterday at the university where I go to aikido classes. Our club was there, too, trying to recruit new people. I'm pretty useless at advertising our club but luckily the others are a lot better. It was good to see some old friends who had been away for the summer. I was particularly happy to see Amanda again. She did come over in July for the summer school in Birmingham, but she's such a lovely person and I've been missing her. Anyway. She surprised me by giving me some postcards! I guess more and more people are aware of my little obsession. :P The cards I got from her include a few of Whitby Abbey.

The first monastery here was founded in AD 657 by King Oswy of Northumbria. An Anglo-Saxon style 'double monastery' for men and women, its first ruler was the formidable royal princess Abbess Hild. Here, Caedmon the cowherd was miraculously transformed into an inspired poet; here, the future of the English church was decided by the Synod of Whitby in 664; and here the relics of Northumbrian kings and saints were enshrined.

Though many intriguing excavated finds from it are displayed in the visitor centre, nothing survives above ground of this Anglo-Saxon monastery. The imposing ruins belong to the church of the Benedictine abbey refounded on its site by the Normans. Begun in about 1220 in the Early English style of Gothic, the pinnacled east end and north transept still stand high, richly carved with characteristic 'dog's tooth' embellishment. Time, war and nature have left their marks. Parts of the church collapsed during storms, its west front was hit by German naval shelling in 1914, and centuries of wind and rain have added their own etched and pitted decoration.

These supremely romantic ruins enjoy panoramic views over the town and coastline, and literary renown as the backdrop to Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Victorian novel which has made Whitby the 'Goth' capital of Britain. More recently the site has inspired Shadowmancer and other best-selling children's novels by ex-vicar, ex-policeman and exorcist GP Taylor. The ruins share the headland with the Cholmley family mansion, begun after Henry VIII's suppression of the abbey. Its impressive Classical façade of 1672 is fronted by a restoration of the 'hard garden' courtyard rediscovered during English Heritage excavations. The courtyard's centrepiece is a specially-commissioned bronze copy of the famous 'Borghese Gladiator' statue. The Roman marble original of this spectacular life-sized statue, now in the Paris Louvre, dates from the 1st century BC: it was found in 1611 in Italy, and bronze casts were made for King Charles I. Copies graced many great English houses and gardens, including the Cholmleys' Whitby mansion, recalling the family's-eventual-Civil War support for the Royalist cause. [source]

No comments: