The gothic haunting of the small town of Whitby is said to be by the old Whitby Abbey were the ghost of a nun is haunting the ruins. Whitby was also a place Bram Stoker used for a setting for Dracula’s arrival to England.
Whitby is cute little English town on the Yorkshire Coast, like taken out from any period drama movie. By the sea on nice days, the people are out in the streets, walking up the piers, sitting in the small cute boat and walking past the picturesque houses. But that is until the weather turns and the clouds are gathering in the sky, making the once blue sea foam. And the weather always turns for the worse in these seaside towns facing the North Sea.
Steeped in history, one need only to spin around to touch ruins, memories and ghosts of the past. And Whitby town is indeed haunted, at least if you believe Bram Stoker, the father of modern horror.
The Legends of Whitby Abbey
But before talking about Dracula, let’s have a look at some of the older legends the place is haunted by.
Much of the settlements back in the day was attributed to Whitby Abbey that was built in the mid 600 and founded by Hilda of Whitby, the abbess of several monasteries and an important figure in the Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England. At that time the Whitby Abbey was a center for the medieval Northumbrian kingdom.
Hilda of Whitby was renowned for her wisdom and counseled Kings, princes and nuns alike. Whitby Abbey was known as Streoneshalh, and she remained there for the rest of her years as an abbess. Hilda of Whitby was was also the one inspiring one of the first British poets, Cædmon, to start out in his endeavor.
The last seven years of her life was a struggle for Hilda as she suffered from a fever. But nevertheless she continued her work until her death on 17th of November in 680 AD. She was then 66 years old, and that was pretty impressive in those days. According to a nun who lived there called Begu, she saw Hilda’s soul being carried to heaven by angels and she became a Saint.
The Ghost of Hilda of Whitby
Many strange legends arose after her death, like how a local legend says that when sea birds fly over the abbey they dip their wings in honour of Saint Hilda.
Read Also: The Haunting of The House of Hohenzollern, a ghost story about the hauntings by a nun.
And it was not the last time someone would claim to see her after her death. On dark nights in Whitby there have been reports of Hilda in the highest window on the northern side of Whitby Abbey when the winds comes blowing in from the sea. She is only seen for a few moments, looking out the window before she again disappears.
According to lore there are also two faiths that can befall you if you look into the well at the abbey at midnight. Those with a pure heart will see Hilda of Whitby, those without a pure will be taken by the devil. So perhaps seeing a ghost here is just a good omen?
Read More: Have a look at all of our ghost stories from churches and monasteries: Haunted Monasteries and Churches
We know little of what happened to Whitby Abbey after the death of Hilda, as Danish Vikings invaded it in 867, leaving it desolate for more than 200 years. It was first then the name Whitby was being used, meaning White City in old Norse.
After the invaders of the Norman, they made the Whitby Abbey to a Benedictine house for men that lasted to the Dissolution of Monasteries in 1539. A process that was often painted with the blood of the Catholics and where they stripped the churches, abbeys and other holy catholic places for its riches. In any case they stole the bells in Whitby Abbey and tried to take them to London, but on the way there, the ship sank together with the bells.
It is said that the ghost of St Hilda of Whitby appears in the ruins sometime as the bells can be heard ringing under the water were they sank. Now the ruins of the abbey stands at the top of East Cliff, looking out to the sea, missing its bells, its walls and its roof that are now only a story.
The Ghost of the Walled up Nun Haunting Whitby Abbey
But Hilda isn’t alone in the ruins of Whitby Abbey according to the local legend. The legend tells of another nun, a Constance De Beverley, who is haunting the walls of the ruined abbey.
Constance De Beverley was a young girl, but had already taken her vow to become a nun and devote herself to God and take no man for the rest of her life. But she broke them when she fell in love with a young knight and thereby breaking her celibacy. She was found out and the sisters in Whitby Abbey walled her inside the walls when she was still alive in the dungeon.
Could it be St. Hilda of Whitby who did it? A confirmed Saint that could have done something like burying one of her sisters inside of the walls? These were, as they’re called: The Dark Ages. The abbey had many abbesses over the years though, and who and when it was suppose to happen, is a bit unclear.
It is said that according to legend, if you walk around the ruins one can perhaps hear the screams of a woman in the wind and a plea for forgiveness and mercy. Perhaps it is coming from the walls? There has also reported a fleeting image of the ghost of a young girl, fleeing the abbey, trying to free herself for her eternal tomb in the walls.
Whether the story is true or not, it has certainly left an impression on those who heard it. The story of Constance De Beverley being condemned to be walled up in the abbey might have been the inspiration of Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘Marmion‘ . It is about a nun of the same name that meets the same fate. Or perhaps the poem gave birth to a legend? Who’s to say?
Read More: This is not the only ghost story about people being buried inside of the walls. Also check out: The Finnish Maiden of Olavinlinna Castle, The Evil Bishop Against the Maiden in Love – A Ghost Story and O-shizu, Hitobashira — The Human Sacrifice of Maruoka Castle
Dracula Arrives In Demeter at Whitby
But perhaps today, Whitby is more known for its fiction than for its history. Today, every summer there is a performance of the story of Dracula at Whitby Abbey. Wonder what Hilda thinks of that.
But many things found in Dracula is drawn on the experience of the Whitby history, even the legend about a nun haunting hte abbey. In the book, Mina writes in her diary:
“Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes … It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows.”
In the book, Dracula arrives with a ship that beaches on the shores of Whitby. This actually happened with the Russian ship Dmitri: “The sequel to the strange arrival of the derelict in the storm last night is almost more startling than the thing itself. It turns out that the schooner is a Russian from Varna, and is called the Demeter. She is almost entirely in ballast of silver sand . . . “ (Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897). Even the name, Dracula, Stoker found in the old library there.
Bram Stoker arrived and stayed at Mrs Vewazey’s Guesthouse in the summer of 1890. He was supposed to work on a new story, set in Styria, Austria with a character called Count Wampyr (thank you old public library of Whitby for giving the character another name than that). The Gothic literature drew on landscapes like this, and maybe not surprisingly, the ruins of Whitby Abbey, the desolated shores and the ghostly tales by the locals made it a perfect setting for what would become Dracula’s first encounter with England.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter
The interest for Dracula related movies and books continues to this day, and is based on the single chapter, the Captain’s Log, from Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel Dracula, the story is set aboard the Russian schooner Demeter and what happens before they arrive at Whitby Harbour.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is scheduled to be released theatrically in the United States on August 11, 2023 and will help keep the legends of the Whitby haunting alive as well as creating its own vampiric lore there.
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