• LOCATION 38 | Essential Whitby: A Guide to the Town’s Legends, Treasures and Main Sites


    You should be approaching an area with a few benches. Look out for Caedmon and take a good look at him. We'll have a short stop here.

    Caedmon was a cowsherd at Whitby Abbey during the time of St Hilda. He is considered the English language's oldest known poet and this is all the more impressive because he was illiterate.

    Caedmon's inspiration came from a dream - where he was given the words for what became Caedmon's Hymn - and this was documented by monks at the Abbey. Even though he could not write, Caedmon therefore becomes the first English poet.

    The Hymn was meant to be sung, but so as not to offend your ears I shall only recite the poem, as translated into modern English:

    Now we must honour the guardian of heaven,
    the might of the architect, and his purpose,
    the work of the father of glory— as he the beginning of wonders
    established, the eternal lord,
    He first created for the children of men
    heaven as a roof, the holy creator
    Then the middle earth, the guardian of mankind
    the eternal lord, afterwards appointed
    the lands for men, the Lord almighty.

    What strikes most people is the reference to Middle Earth in Caedmon's poem. You'll no doubt be entertaining images of hobbits, orcs and powerful rings, however this is over a thousand years before J. R. R Tolkien.

    Middle Earth comes from Old Norse - a language that Tolkien took much inspiration from. This means that the Middle Earth pub here in Whitby owes probably more to Caedmon than the Lord of the Rings.

    Caedmon later became a monk himself and is remembered today by the statue you can see and Whitby's largest secondary school - Caedmon College.

    Let's keep moving.

    Continue uphill and take a sharp left along Henrietta Street - we aren't going up the 199 Steps just yet, but take note of them.

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Essential Whitby: A Guide to the Town’s Legends, Treasures and Main Sites