Whitby Abbey - the home of Easter...
… and why Easter always falls on a Sunday!
The date of Easter changes each year, falling anytime between 22 March and 25 April, but as many people enjoy the family fun trail around Whitby Abbey this Easter weekend (29 March to 1 April), how many will realise that its date was agreed on the very site on which they stand?
As with many Christian festivals, the date of Easter was probably chosen to co-incide with existing religious traditions, and early Christians aligned their celebrations with the Jewish feast of Passover, itself calculated based on a lunar calendar. In 325AD, the First Council of Nicea agreed that all Christians should celebrate Easter on a Sunday, as St John’s Gospel identified Sunday as the day on which Jesus rose.
As different Christian communities developed, different orders used different calculation tables and protocols to determine the date for Easter, resulting in monks from the influential Christian order on Iona eventually celebrating Easter on a different date to the Roman Church. Nowhere was the disagreement more obvious than the kingdom of Northumbria, where King Oswiu celebrated the feast on a different week to Queen Eanfled – so whilst one Royal court was fasting as part of Lent, the other would be feasting and celebrating!
The problem came to a head when the Ionan order was replaced in Ripon by Wilfred, who had trained in Rome. With leading clergy within the kingdom disagreeing on the date of Easter, a Synod was called by the Northumbrian princess Hild, who was the founding abbess of Whitby Abbey, then known as Streonshalh. In 664, the Synod finally agreed to follow the Roman calculations for Easter, bringing together the traditions in England for the first time.
The calculations agreed for Easter at this Synod are still used today to determine the date of the celebrations, an indeed, this Synod is seen by many as the Celtic church bowing to the Roman Catholic church – a decision that changed religion in England forever.
“As a result of this Synod, Whitby Abbey has become known as the ‘home of Easter’, so it seems only fitting that people come and enjoy the site at this time of year,” adds Whitby Abbey’s site manager, Sarah Bedlington. “Whether you are coming for tranquil reflection in the historic ruins or coming to explore the Visitor Centre, it is a great way to spend a couple of hours over the Easter period.”
Whitby Abbey and its visitor centre are open daily from 10.00am to 6.00pm from 29 March. Admission prices are £6.40 for adults, £5.80 for concessions and £3.80 for children. A family ticket (two adults and up to three children) is priced at £16.60. Whitby Abbey’s Easter Family Fun Trail runs from Good Friday (29 March) until Easter Monday (1 April), with a small chocolate treat for children completing the hunt around the ruins.
For more information, please visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/whitby or call 01947 603568.
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Jay Commins – PRO English Heritage (Yorkshire)
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