Kirk Hill

History & Heritage
It was here that St Ebba (Æbbe ) reputedly founded her monastery sometime around AD 643 and became associated with the performance of many miracles

About Kirk Hill

The Kirk Hill of St. Abbs Head in medieval times was the centre of the important cult of St. Ebbe (Æbbe) of Coldingham, recognised as the mother of Northumbria. The historical Æbbe as describe by Bede and others, was a member of the Northumbrian royal family and abbess of the double monastery of Coludi Urbs in the latter C7th. Her monastery was destroyed by fire in 679. It was rebuilt in but later despoiled by Danish invaders, an event that gave birth to a legend of St. Æbbe. Hoping to discourage Viking lust, the nuns were said to have mutilated their faces in the hope of being spared from a fate worse than death

There are now the only remnants of a monastic settlement, however, there are faint outlines of buildings, field boundaries and a rectangular burial site dating from the 12th century. These are the scant traces of a Benedictine chapel established in 1188 and dedicated to Æbbe by monks from Coldingham Priory.

Æbbe was a great teacher and politician and close friend of St. Cuthbert who visited Æbbe's monastery to instruct the community. It was said that at night Cuthbert would disappear to bathe and pray in the sea, to stop himself succumbing to temptations of the flesh. Very early one morning, a monk from the monastery spied him praying and singing psalms in the sea and as Cuthbert came ashore, he saw or imagined he saw two otters bound out of the sea and dry Cuthbert’s feet.

Ebbe’s veneration was created when a local layman, Henry, who had a lover, but tired of her, whereupon the spurned mistress poisoned him. He lost his senses, and on being brought to the shrine of St. Michael in Coldingham Priory Church, he was cured., he was instructed to build an oratory to St. Æbbe on St. Abbs Head. As miracles abounded and crowds gathered, the Coldingham monks, originally many of whom were sceptical, eventually came around and rebuilt the oratory.

A historical manuscript attributed to Reginald records 43 miracles, all excepting one being healing cures and unusually, nearly half described as youthful. Three centres of supernatural power were involved: St. Abbs Head and the two healing springs nearby, one on the summit, and one near sea level at the foot of Kirk Hill. 79% of the miracles are said to be located at the oratory. The triptych of oratory, fountain and church is described in the case of a poor blind woman who went to the oratory, prays, is told by Æbbe in a dream to wash in her fountain, which she does, and returns cured to Coldingham where she swears her experiences to the monks who fill the church with praise.

Many women used the oratory, as they were not permitted access to the sanctuary of a Benedictine church, supported the Cult of St. Ebbe. The oratory provided by the monks contained an altar dedicated to the Lord and Æbbe, completed in 1188. The high point of worship was the service held at the shrine chapel on 24th June annually, close to the important church calendar marker of the 21st June summer solstice.

In C14th, on orders of the Prior of Coldingham, the St. Abbs Kirk was built, probably in 1380. The old churchyard and parts of the walls remained on the Kirk Hill until the C19th.

The walk is straightforward but is strongly recommended that you wear walking footwear.

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