St Hilda of Whitby

Our founder Dorothea Beale named the College after St Hilda (614-680), head of Whitby Abbey, which was the leading house of education of her time. 

Hilda was the great-niece of Edwin, King of the Northumbrians, whom she converted to Christianity when she was 11. According to the Venerable Bede’s ‘History of the English Church and People’, Hilda spent the first 33 years of her life ‘most nobly in secular occupations’. She spent her next 33 years as a nun, first in Gaul, and then as abbess of English monasteries at Hartlepool and at Tadcaster. She then founded and presided over the abbey of Whitby. Hilda suffered with a constant fever for the last six years of her life, but bore this bravely until her death in 680.

Hilda was the greatest of the royal-aristocratic abbesses of her day. She had a huge influence on the 7th-century English church. Miracles were associated with her as evidence of her piety. The ammonites on the College’s coat of arms represent the serpents she is said to have turned to stone.

Dorothea Beale was a great educationalist. She chose St Hilda when she was fighting to create opportunities for women in the second half of the 19th century. St Hilda too spent her life advancing the cause of learning. However, Whitby Abbey was a double monastery of women and men in adjoining quarters. Hilda was a great educational force for both women and men in early-medieval England and she persuaded Caedmon to become a monk in her abbey. So, Whitby was not just a women’s community but a mixed one, as St Hilda’s College is today.

St Hilda of WhitbySt Hilda's College Library bookplate, featuring St Hilda of Whitby