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The Legend Of The Submerged Bells Of Whitby Abbey

Have you ever visited the black nab and heard the sound of the submerged bells? Here we explore the fascinating legend of the submerged bells of Whitby Abbey.

The submerged bells legend begins at a point in English history when religious houses were a hugely popular franchise in the British Isles. By the 15th century, there were more than 600 of varying kinds across the country.

Black Nab, Saltwick Bay, nr Whitby
Black Nab, Saltwick Bay

It is said that should you visit the Black Nab on All Hallows Eve and call out a sweethearts name, you’ll hear the name whispered on the wind and the sound of bells in the breeze.

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The Legend Of The Submerged Bells Of Whitby Abbey

At Whitby Abbey, the Friary would have extended way beyond the ruins that we see today. As the Abbey had been an established religious centre since around 625, gaining notoriety and prestige during the heady days of St Hilda, there was ample reason to believe that the footprint of the Abbey’s catchment area would have been very large. Whitby Abbey was one of the oldest Benedictine monasteries in the country by the time of Henry VIII.

Whitby Abbey Reconstruction

The Taking Of The Bells

The Dissolution of the Monasteries came into force and sliced through the nations religious orders. It was slow going at first, there was local resistance, both within the community and amongst the religious. Even the great bells of the Abbey were to be taken from the town.

The bells were taken down from the Abbey, hauled down Donkey Path, next to the 199 steps, to the Tate Hill Pier where they were loaded onto a ship bound for London. Cries rang out as the distressed locals cursed the King and his men. This could not be! This was sacrilege. They wished that the bells would not be taken. 

Black Nab, Saltwick Bay.
Black Nab, Saltwick Bay.

It was a warm summers eve as the bells were placed aboard the vessel. The sea still as morning dew. The conditions were perfect, the ship would set sail forthwith. As the crew rounded Black Nab on that fateful day, the ship sank straight to the bottom of the sea. 

It was as if the holy bells were too heavy a load for such a connived venture. The prayers of the locals had been answered. The sacred bells of Whitby Abbey would not leave this ancient and holy place. Fisherman stories say that if you sail to Black Nab on a clear night you can still hear the currents ringing the bells.

The Buried Chime

Under the cliffs at Whitby, when the great tides landward flow,

Under the cliffs at Whitby, when the great winds landward blow,

When the long billows heavily roll o’er the harbour bar,
And the blue waves flash to silver ‘mid the seaweeds on the Scar,

When the low thunder of the surf calls down the hollow shore,
And ‘mid the caves at Kettleness the baffled breakers roar;

Under the cliffs at Whitby, who so will stand alone,
Where, in the shadow of the Nab, the eddies swirl and moan,

When, to the pulses of the deep, the flood-tide rising swells,
Will hear, amid its monotone, the clash of hidden bells.

Up from the heart of ocean the mellow music peals,
Where the sunlight makes his golden path, and the sea-mew flits and wheels.

For many a chequered century, untired by flying time,
The bells, no human fingers touch, have rung their hidden chime,

Since the gallant ship that brought them, for the abbey on the height,
Struck and foundered in the offing, with her sacred goal in sight.

And the man who dares on Hallowe’en on the Black Nab to watch,
Till the rose-light on St. Hilda’s shrine the midnight moonbeams catch,

And calls his sweetheart by her name, as, o’er the sleeping seas,
The echo of the buried bells comes floating on the breeze,

‘Ere another moon on Hallowe’en her eerie rays has shed,
Will hear his wedding peal ring out from the church tower on the Head.
Susan K. Phillips

Have you ever heard the chime of the sunken bells? Let us know in the comments. We love to hear your stories.

5 thoughts on “The Legend Of The Submerged Bells Of Whitby Abbey”

  1. I love the detail that you go into on this blog. It’s been a couple of years since I visited the town of Whitby. Hopefully I can return soon. In the meantime, well done on producing these insightful posts.

  2. I heard the bells I was eight yrs old the storm on the cliffs came suddenly it was raining and windy I heard the bells when we got down the steps there was sunshine and they had not had the storm we had everyone was looking at us as we were wet right down to our underwear this was in 1973 ..


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