Abbey that made a date for Easter

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey
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IT WAS a synod that met to set the date for Easter celebrations and helped to put Whitby firmly on the international religious map.

In 664AD, the synod chaired by Abbess Hilda met in the North Yorkshire town at the behest of Oswiu, King of Northumbria, to set the date for Easter celebrations.

This was to be held, the church decreed, on the first Sunday after the full moon and later this year events will be held to mark the milestone decision.

The Town Mayor of Whitby, Coun John Freeman, claimed that a decision made 14 centuries ago still remains relevant to the modern era.

“It is wonderful that a decision made in Whitby and involving the phases of the moon, so many centuries ago, should still stand and be recognised worldwide,” he said.

Christian church leaders met at Whitby Abbey in 664AD to end confusion which had worsened over centuries and came to a head that year in Northumbria, when one half of the Royal family celebrated Easter as the rest were still fasting for Lent.

Easter often had been celebrated by early Christians to coincide with the Jewish feast of Passover, the 14th day of the first lunar month in the Jewish calendar.

In AD325 Roman clerics decided Easter should always fall on a Sunday, the first Sunday after the first Ecclesiastical full moon after March 20, the date of that year’s vernal equinox.

Over the following years scholars disagreed over full moon dates, leading different branches of Christianity to celebrate Easter on different dates, until the Synod at Whitby agreed the formula which is still used to this day.

This year the historic coastal town of Whitby and its landmark Abbey, have decided to celebrate the decision made back in the seventh century, 1,350 years ago.

Those behind the move to mark the milestone hope that a service will be held later in the year at Whitby Abbey and they are also planning to mark the occasion with more localised celebrations within the Whitby Deanery.

The rector of Whitby, Canon David Smith, said: “This is a major celebration for Whitby and we expect many pilgrims to visit the Abbey during the Easter celebrations and at our anniversary events.”

Sister Dorothy Stella, The Prioress of The Order of the Holy Paraclete at Sneaton Castle, Whitby, confirmed sisters from the Order are hoping to take part in the celebrations.

She said: “The fixing of the date of Easter put Whitby on the international religious map.

“It is a wonderful thing to mark and I am sure it will bring many people to visit the town and its Abbey.”

Coun Freeman said he hopes the planned commemoration events will help, and added the hope that “the commemoration will give Whitby international publicity.”

A monastery was first established in Whitby in about 657AD and under the rule of Abbess Hilda it became one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world. She was later made a saint and played a key role in the conversion of England to Christianity

It is said that King Oswiu, King of Northumbria, decided in favour of Rome because he believed that Rome followed the teaching of St Peter, the holder of the keys of heaven.

The momentous decision brought the English church into closer contact with Christian movements on the continent.

Canon Smith said: “It was the synod of Whitby that organised the date of Easter.

“Until that point the Celtic church and the Roman church were using a different date for Easter.

“It was really through the strength of Hilda in bringing everybody together to 
discuss things and make a decision.

“We are hoping to have a service in the Abbey at a date to be arranged and we will certainly be thinking about marking it in the Deanery.”