Synod of Whitby

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The Synod of Whitby was an important local synod which led to the liturgical and administrative unification of the Church in England. Summoned by King Oswiu of Northumbria in 663 A.D., the synod was held in 664 at Whitby Abbey, which was St. Hilda's double monastery of Streonshalh, at Whitby.


Among prelates in attendance was St. Wilfrid of York (634-710), who was chief spokesman for the southern, Roman, church. It is his biography, written long after the events it purports to describe, that is the only surviving source for the Synod.

The Synod of Whitby constituted a milestone in the history of the Church in Britain, since delegates from the North and the South came together to debate the future of the church in Northumbria. The actual matters in dispute were fairly minor, the main controversies being over how to calculate the date of Pascha, and what style of tonsure clerics should wear. However, whichever side was acknowledged as having authority to rule on these matters would also decide whether the Celtic or the Roman customs would have ascendency over the whole North of England. The matter came to a head one spring when the king, who followed the Celtic practice, was feasting at Pascha, while the queen, who followed Roman practice, was still fasting for Lent.

Final judgement went to the Roman church, whose practices were then adopted by the Northumbrians. Supporters of the Celtic traditions withdrew to Scotland.

The Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People describes the proceedings in detail about seventy years after the events he describes. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, however, makes no mention at all of the synod.

See also