Has everyone else finished their Leeds reports yet? Must be time for me to start then! Leeds, in this instance, being for those new to the blog where each year the principal European conference on medieval studies is held, the International Medieval Congress. I have been going for many years and intend to continue to for a while yet, though this coming year taking less active a role. Anyway. I had an excellent Leeds this year but it started early, because for once I had time to go on one of the excursions that are arranged as part of the conference, which was to Whitby. I’d been to Whitby before for a friend’s wedding during the Goth Weekend, and that was, shall we say, not as medieval as it sounds except that as I recall I spent most of the weekend in our room minding my infant son and reading Pauline Stafford’s Unification and Conquest as teaching preparation. In particular, I never got a proper look round the Abbey.
As you can see, I fixed that. The abbey is largely thirteenth-century and largely ruined, though more of it stood than now does until 1914, when a German cruiser squadron bombarding the East Coast managed to put this hole in a wall.
Not totally clear what they were aiming at, but that’s what they got, apparently. These and other details were supplied by our excellent guide, Glynn Coppack, and we had plenty of time to wander around and appreciate details by ourselves. I took loads of pictures, and can’t share them all, but there are some I took with particular people or facets in mind, so I’ll put them below the cut, along with one snapped by and kindly shared by the estimable Kathleen Neal, international medievalist extraordinaire, famed dancer and warmly regarded by all who know her, who had booked on the same trip by coincidence and who afforded me that vital asset for tourism, someone to point cool stuff out to. There was plenty…
Where it’s still up it extends, in its full Gothic complexity, to some height in some parts…
… and in others to some depth.
Apparently much of the Anglo-Saxon site’s location is suspected but has not been dug, or even surveyed which I find bizarre and improbable. One part that has, however, is the cemetery, but then that was easier to work out the placing of…
And there were plenty of living people around and about also, wandering the ruins. The ruins are actually quite informative about construction if you interrogate them carefully.
But quite a lot has gone however you cut it, and some details can’t easily be recovered. Here, at least, is some vaulting (for Vaulting; sorry, there was no vellum available but then you have as much as you need…):
And some finer details of the ornament that had escaped me did not elude the eagle eye of Mrs Neal. Heads up!
There is also a quite nice little visitor centre attached, to which we also went, and they have some perhaps older things, which I probably shouldn’t have been photographing but hey I’m sure no-one will find out from the Internet, right?
For Katrin, the textile-working stuff found in the 1930s digs. And then lastly a short selection from the church of St Mary nearby, which unlike a great many medieval churches, most of which were modified, added to, made over, filled up, padded out, and a dozen other things, has not subsequently had this work removed, and is thus a bit crowded:
Pretty much whichever way you look. Mind your head!
There was also a display of some stuff from the abbey that we might otherwise have missed, some of which is poignant enough even without the captioning:
But lighter relief was brought by one or two things that just caption themselves:
And outside back at the bus there was another of those:
What, you mean nobody told you? Well, now you’re told.
The references for Anglo-Saxon Whitby are ageing now but still useful, and are basically Rosemary Cramp, “Monastic Sites” and “Analysis of the finds register and location plan of Whitby Abbey” and Philip Rahtz, “The building plan of the Anglo-Saxon monastery of Whitby Abbey”, all in David M. Wilson (ed.), The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England (London 1976), pp. 201-252 at pp. 223-229 and pp. 453-457 & 459-462, updated by Cramp, “A Reconsideration of the Monastic Site at Whitby” in John Higgitt and R. Michael Spearman (edd.), The Age of Migrating Ideas. Early Medieval Art in Northern Britain and Ireland. Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Insular Art held in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, 3-6 January 1991 (Stroud 1993), pp. 64-73. What you would need to read for the standing structures I’m afraid I’ve little idea but there is a handy English Heritage book that would cover the very basics, Steven Brindle, Whitby Abbey, English Heritage Guidebooks (London 2010).