Synod of Whitby

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Synod of Whitby

Whitby, North Yorkshire The 12th of April 664 AD

The significance of what we now call the Synod of Whitby is perhaps less what it actually decided, than how it was viewed and even used in subsequent times. Our information about the event is decidedly shaky – based on the writings of Stephen of Ripon perhaps 50 years later and those of Bede in 731. It is not even sure if the venue, stated as Streonshalh, was St Hilda’s monastery at Whitby , or possibly another place entirely, Strenshall near York being just one possibility.
Two matters of Church doctrine were discussed at the synod: the lesser was the correct tonsure for monks; of far greater moment was the timing of the great Christian festival of Easter. In Northumbria at that time two Church traditions were in competition: that of Rome and Iona. The Ionans were already in a weak position, with other parts of the Irish/Celtic Church following the Roman timing of Easter; they had also been expelled from the monastery of Ripon , which was passed to Wilfrid, who was the main spokesperson for Rome at the Whitby gathering.
King Oswiu of Northumbria decided in favour of Rome, on the basis that St Peter’s authority was unshakeable and he was the first Bishop of Rome. It is likely that politics influenced his decision, as the Roman Church already enjoyed greater power and influence in other parts of England than the Ionan.
Effective unification of the Church in England followed not long after Whitby, driven by Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury , after his arrival in 669, culminating in the pan-English Synod of Hertford in 672.
Whitby in the Reformation and subsequently was seen as a milestone along the road leading from their idea of a purer national – Celtic – Church for opponents of Roman Catholicism and Episcopal Church government.

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