St Hilda was born in 614 of noble birth, the daughter of a nephew of Edwin, King of Northumbria. Converted to Christianity when she was eleven, she later became a nun and was appointed by Bishop Aiden as Abbess of the double monastery Iona. It is, however, as founding Abbess of Whitby that she is best known.
The Abbey at Whitby was in fact, co-educational. The idea of double monasteries was not new and was already established on the continent. Hilda was greatly respected by both religious and secular leaders and was particularly noted for her emphasis on the virtues of peace, charity and of course, chastity. Her Abbey enjoyed a high reputation and six men who were trained under her were later appointed as bishops of an expanding Church. Whitby would appear to have been a centre of learning at this time, when England as a whole was becoming famous for its scholarship. Both the Abbey and the nearby town of Streanae Shalch were destroyed by Danish invaders in 787, but the Abbey was refounded in 1067 before being finally dissolved in 1540.
There is said to be the wraith of St Hilda, who appears in the ruins wrapped in a shroud, and the bells of the Abbey can be heard ringing under the water, where they sank with the ship taking them to London after the Abbey was dismantled. Sea birds are supposed to be unable to fly over the Abbey and the ammonites found in the cliffs at Whitby, are said to be the snakes which infested the rocks, and were turned into stone in answer to St Hilda’s prayers.
A stone from the thirteenth century ruins of Whitby Abbey where St Hilda founded the Monastery of Streoneshalh c657AD was donated to the College by the Whitby Urban Council. This stone is located at the College entrance.