Whitby Abbey: The ruins that inspired Bram Stoker to create “Dracula”

Myths and legends can spawn new myths and stories. The primal yearning of the human spirit to be fed on fairy tales and amazing stories is deeply ingrained in human nature. Stories have been an important part of men and women’s daily lives since the dawn of time. Without tales, even when the stomach was full, people felt empty within. Stories told in song, music, or simply with simple words were utilized to conquer fear and restore the spiritual light to the human soul.

Shamans, holy men and women, saints, spiritual warriors, and priests were storytellers in prehistoric and ancient times. They brought lost individuals back to themselves, and hence back to their real essence, via storytelling. That was the key factor in their successful recovery. Storytellers have gone on to become poets, novelists, musicians, and artists. In the modern era, storytellers include filmmakers, directors, and visual artists.

Storytellers get inspiration from a variety of sources. It might be a sudden delight while working on something else, a dream, or the smile of a wonderful person, an amazing scenery, a structure, or an old legend.

The massive remnants of Whitby Abbey and the folklore about the pale ghost of a lady that walks the murky ruins of the ancient Gothic abbey inspired the great novelist Bram Stoker to write his epic book Dracula. According to folklore, the lady was bricked up alive in one of the walls and was regularly seen through one of the shattered windows. Maybe the legend is real, maybe it isn’t, but the bats have arrived. They are unquestionably long-term residents.

Whitby Abbey

In truth, Bram Stoker first learned about the actual Vlad Dracula (Vlad III, commonly known as Vlad the Impaler) in the Whitby library in North Yorkshire in 1890. He expertly combined the newly obtained knowledge with his inventive imagination, and so the iconic Dracula myth was formed.

One legend resurrected another. But Bram Stoker was inspired by more than just the ghostly remains of Whitby Abbey. The amazing atmosphere of the fallen edifice moved many ordinary people, authors, and artists throughout the year. In its heyday, the monastery was also a popular pilgrimage destination, inspiring many devout Christians to find their way to God.

Ruined Abbey in Whitby, North Yorkshire, England. Norman architecture reflected in pond.

The remains are situated on a cliff overlooking the North Sea, in a region that has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, according to archaeological finds. There was a Roman signal post or maybe a town during the Roman Era (3rd century AD). The first monastery on the site, however, was founded in 657 by St Hilda, who was commissioned by the Saxon King of Northumbria to establish a monastery at Streoneshalh (the old name of Whitby).

Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire, UK

The location quickly became one of the most important religious complexes for the inhabitants of Anglo-Saxon civilisation. The monastery’s cells housed a large number of monks and nuns. For a few years, the celebrated poet Caedmon, recognized as the first English poet, stayed at the abbey. The monastery was esteemed by the Northumbrian Royal family because the monastery’s property served as their burial location. Years later, Norman nobility was buried there as well.

Whitby Abbey and cemetery on the clifftop over Whitby.

The monastery hosted the Synod of Whitby in 664 when King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled that the practice of Christianity according to Roman traditions would supplant the region’s Celtic Christian heritage. The monastery’s glory days came to an end by the end of the ninth century. The Vikings assaulted and destroyed it multiple times. The site was abandoned until the Norman Conquest.

Vintage engraving of Whitby Abbey a ruined Benedictine abbey overlooking the North Sea on the East Cliff above Whitby in North Yorkshire, England. , 19th Century

Reinferd, a soldier and monk, got instructions from William de Percy towards the end of the 11th century to build a Benedictine Abbey on the ruins of the former abbey. In the 13th century, the monastery church underwent a massive rebuilding in the Gothic architectural style. It was expanded and rebuilt multiple times throughout the next few centuries.

Whitby Abbey on a summers day

However, the secondary monastery’s life ended in the 1540s when it was demolished by an order of King Henry VIII during the Reformation. His men destroyed a huge portion of the structures and removed any precious items.

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