7th-century chapel discovered at Whitby Abbey

On Easter Sunday, English Heritage (the organization that runs Whitby Abbey, Stonehenge, and Clifford’s Tower, all of which we’re visiting) revealed that archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a previously unknown chapel at Whitby Abbey. According to EH, the site dates to c620-680. Whitby Abbey was founded by the abbess Hilda in 657. In 664, church leaders in the north of England gathered there for the Synod of Whitby, where English church leaders chose to follow the rituals and calendar of the Roman church rather than the Celtic church. Cædmon, who is the first recorded poet in English and whose “Hymn” we’re reading, worked at Whitby as a laybrother during Hilda’s abbacy (657-680).

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The chapel with the 13th-century Abbey in the background. (Source)

The Synod of Whitby was particularly important in that it set the date for Easter as the one the Roman church used, rather than the very differently calculated date used by the Celtic church. You can see why EH posted the news on Easter Sunday!

I don’t know whether we’ll be able to see the chapel excavations while we’re at Whitby; hopefully, we’ll be able to get close enough to take a look. In any case, this exciting discovery could illustrate what life at Whitby was like for Cædmon and his contemporaries nearly 1400 years ago. It also provides a sharp contrast to Bram Stoker’s gothic uses of Whitby’s post-Reformation ruins!

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