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Legends Of The Monastery Of St. Hilda

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

There are many curious legends connected with the monastery and vicinity, which have been variously said and sung in prose and verse, but to mention one half of which would encroach upon your columns. The very signature of your correspondent, " The Hermit of Eskdaleside," is calculated to draw attention to a strange but pleasing tale, connected with the noble families of Bruce and Percy, once seated there : the hermitage of Eskdaleside, the boar-hunt in the forest of Eskdale, and consequent fatal death of a hermit ; the singular penance enjoined upon the hunters and their successors for ever, and which is still annually performed in the haven of Whitby. The story may be thus compressed :

On the 16th day of October, in the fifth year of Henry the Second, the lords of Ugglebarnby and Sneaton, accompanied by a principal freeholder, with their hounds, staves, and followers, went to chase the wild boar, in the woods of Eskdaleside, which appertained to the abbot of Whitby. They found a large boar, which on being sore wounded and dead run, took in at the hermitage of Eskdale, where a hermit, a monk of Whitby, was at his devotions, and there the exhausted animal lay down. The hermit closed the door of the cell, and continued his meditations, the hounds standing at bay without. The hunters, being thrown behind their game in the thick of the forest followed the cry of the hounds, and at length came to the hermitage. On the monk being roused from his orisons by the noise of the hunters, he opened the door and came forth. The boar had died within the hermitage, and because the hounds were put from their game, the hunters violently and cruelly ran at the hermit with their boar-staves, and of the wounds which they inflicted he subsequently died. The gentlemen took sanctuary in a privileged place at Scar-borough, out of which the abbot had them removed, so that they were in danger of being punished with death. The hermit, being a holy man and at the last extremity, required the abbot to send for those who had wounded him ; and upon their drawing near, he said, "1 am sure to die of these wounds." The abbot answered, " They shall die for thee." The devout hermit replied, " Not so, for I freely for-give them my death, if they be content to be enjoined to a penance for the safeguard of their souls." The gentlemen bade him enjoin what he would, so he saved their lives. The hermit then enjoined that they and theirs should for ever after hold their lands of the abbot of Whitby and his successors, on this condition, that upon Ascension Eve they, or some for them, should come to the wood of the Strayhead, which is in Eskdaleside, the same day at sun-rising, and there the officer of the abbot should blow his horn, that they might know where to find him, who should deliver to them ten stakes, ten strout-stowers, and ten yedders, to be cut with a knife of a penny price, which were to be taken on their backs to Whitby, before nine of the clock on that day ; and at the hour of nine o'clock, as long as it should be low water (if it be full sea the service to cease) each of them to set their stakes at the brim of the water, a yard from one another, and so make a hedge with the stakes, stowers, and yedders, that it stand three tides without being removed by the force of the water. And the officer of Eskdaleside shall blow his horn, " Out on you ! out on you ! out on you !" Should the service be refused, so long as it is not full sea at the hour fixed, all their lands should be forfeited. Then the hermit said, " My soul longeth for the Lord, and I do as freely forgive these gentlemen my death as Christ forgave the thief upon the cross." And in the presence of the abbot and the rest, he said, " In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum : a vinculis enim mortis redemisti me, Domine veritatis. Amen." And then he yielded up the ghost on the 18th Dec.

More ample details of this story may be found in Grose's Antiquities, who pleads strongly for its authenticity, and has given a plate of the chapel or hermitage of Eskdaleside. The building still exists, but roofless and in ruins. The " penny- hedge " still continues to be annually planted on the south side of the Esk in Whitby harbour, on Ascension Day, within high-water mark ; it has not yet happened to be high-water at the time fixed. The bailiff of Eskdaleside attends to see the condition performed, and the horn blows according to immemorial custom, out on them !

This romantic legend has been pleasingly paraphrased by the author of Marmion, in the second canto :

"Then Whitby's nuns exulting told,
How to their house three barons bold
Must menial service do ;
While horns blow out a note of shame,
And monks cry, `
Fye upon your name,
In wrath, for loss of sylvan game,
Saint Hilda's priest ye slew.'
This on Ascension Day each year,
While labouring on our harbour pier,
Must Herbert, Bruce, and Percy hear."

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