It is not to be wondered at, in this hurry of the nineteenth century, that we forget the days that are past, and how we became a people great in deed and thought and aspiration. It is all the more important that we should place before the eyes of our children landmarks of history that cannot be mistaken, and show them that, for all the haste of our time, we are not unthankful, nor unmindful, of those who went before us and who, by the grace of God, have helped to set us on an hill and to order our going. (p. 691)
It is with intent to set up such a landmark of history in the domain of English thought and literature, that a committee has been formed to erect a beautiful monument in the Whitby Churchyard to the memory of Cædmon, the first maker of Christian poetry in England. We believe in local associations to quicken and inspire, and it seemed that there was no place so surely connected with the beginnings of our scared poetry as the cliff of Streonshalh, still crowned with the remains of the Abbey that bears St. Hild’s name. Hild, the Abbess, set up her school of learning on the Bright-Shining Bay Cliff in the year 658. She passed to her rest in the year 680. (p. 691)
It is not too much to say that our vernacular literature was born here, between those two dates. It is not too much to say, that we speak English as we speak it to-day largely because in those years, probably between 670 and 680, a poor herdman of the House was inspired to essay the singing of a song, and was, by the encouragement of the Abbess Hild, set to work to write a Bible paraphrase in verse. (p. 691)….
As to the place of Cædmon in the history of English song what shall be said but this?—That he was the fountain-head of the deep vein of serious poetry which has flowed on perpetually since his time, to the good and grace of the nation. “Sweet and humble,” says Bede, “was his poetry; no trivial or vain song came from his lips. The aim of his verse was to stir men to despise the world and to aspire to heaven.” (p. 692)….
I had long felt that it was a great pity that, whilst many visitors passed through Whitby in the holiday seasons, there was no visible sign of the fact of Cædmon’s life and work to arrest their attention. The matter was brought before a meeting of the members of the Literary and Philosophical Society at Whitby, last October; the proposition was favourably received by them, and a local committee determined to carry the matter forward. (pp. 693-4)
Consultation with men eminent in the archaeological world, who were well versed in northern antiquities and the history of Northumbria …. had made it clear that the most fitting monument to Cædmon would be a cross of Anglian design, whose motive should be borrowed from the four great Anglian crosses that were extant in Cædmon’s time—the Ruthwell, the Bewcastle, the Bishop Acca of Hexham, and the Rothbury crosses …. There seemed to be an ideally perfect site for the monument on a vacant space of ground in the old churchyard of St. Mary’s at the top of the steps. The ashes of the Christian poet may long ere this have been washed into the sea, for the cliff on which the church stands has had constant inroad made upon it, but it is quite as likely that his dust still lies in the consecrated ground in the midst of which the quaint old church stands. The rector and the churchwardens gave their assent to the proposal to have the cross placed there, and it will be seen not only by all who pass up towards St. Hild’s Abbey, but far and wide over the harbour, and so to the western cliff. (p. 694)
The monument itself is no slavish copy as to detail or design, but a glance will show that it is of Anglian shape and Anglian in general treatment and scale, while at the same time it is evidently of nineteenth-century work. It will stand up out of a solid base to the height of twenty-two feet. (p. 694)….
It was not a very easy matter to find the right kind of stone for this beautiful Christian monument…. The stone selected as best in every way for strength and power to resist decay was that of the Black Pasture Quarry above Chollerford. This quarry had probably been worked in Roman times. The Chollerford bridge-piers the Romans built are still seen unworn beneath the water at the ford. (p. 695)
(Sunday Magazine, 27 (September 1898), 691-6)