I have said The Abbey dominated the sky line at Whitby but next to it also is St Mary's church and it's earie graveyard that so inspired Bram Stoker. Also up the 199 steps.
It was in 657 A.D. that St. Hilda built a monastery on Whitby's East Cliff. A wattle and daub church was built nearby for the men and women who served the needs of the monastery. Both monastery and church were destroyed by raiding Danes.
St Mary's church sits up on the cliff top, at the top of a long and steep flight of steps known as the 199 steps and between the town and the ruined abbey.
The craftsmen who carved these pews and pillars probably spent much of their time building ships, and the similarity shows in the interior of St Mary`s. The overall effect is cosy helped by the still-working stove which sits amongst the pews.
The church was built between 1110 and 1120 and therefore predates the ruins of the existing abbey by over 100 years! Townsfolk were not permitted to worship at the abbey and had to have their own place of worship. One blessing was that the church did not suffer as the abbey did on 14 December 1539 from Henry VIII's suppression of the greater houses.
As the population of Whitby expanded, extra isles and galleries were added culminating in a large addition to the north west side in 1819, bringing the seating to over 1,500!
All the original box pews are intact and there are a number of reminders of what it was like to attend church in the days that it was compulsory and social status very much dictated where you sat and who you looked at.
A great example of the class aspect is the pew used by the Lords of the Manor known as the Cholmley pew. The pew was erected around 1600-1625 in the most conspicuous place possible, above and hiding one of the finest surviving examples of Norman arches and facing away from the altar and towards the congregation!
Caedmon's Cross in churchyard was erected in 1898 to commemorate Caedmon, the first English poet - the Cross is carved from Northumbrian sandstone in the Celtic design with the figures of Christ, David, Abbess Hilda and Caedmon in panels.
There are interesting, unusual and some unique features to St. Mary's. These include:
A triple decker pulpit with a tester above to ensure that the sermon could be heard;
Box pews, built in the 1600's and often rented by families, their names being put on the sides;
An Elizabethan altar table;
Memorial plaques, coats of arms and wall paintings;
An upper gallery;
The re-roofing carried out in 1819 was done by shipwrights who made skylights which resemble those set into a deck.
The first time I saw the graveyard was winter..windswept and feeling quite desolate I hated the thought of burying anyone up here. I can well see how it inspired Bram Stoker.
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