Approaching Whitby from the North, Pilgrim’s Arrival
The monastery at Whitby dominates the town and was a one of a string of such monastic settlements that ran down the Eastern seaboard of the kingdom of Northumbria.
I have visited Whitby and painted it a number of times. This work was inspired by the events of the synod of Whitby 664, attended by St Cuthhbert.
The synod changed the direction of the spiritual life of the whole country and severed the influence of Iona over the Northumbrian church. The party departing to the south would have looked back to the abbey with satisfaction that their arguments had been upheld and perhaps glanced back to the northern lands where the traditions of the Celtic church drew their energy to see the sun setting. It would have been with heavy hearts that the northern party withdrew to examine their consciences.
With this painting I imagined the more hopeful journey towards Whitby, made by those travelling from the north. At Sandsend weathered beach groynes evoke the staves marching on sands to Holy Island, a reminder for some, including Cuthbert, who attended the Synod of their setting out point. In the growing light of a new day the monastic headland is seen for the first time on the horizon, the journey is ending, the task of winning the arguments yet to be undertaken.