Discovering Albion – day 10: Selby Abbey – Phoenix

scotland trip jan 15 095“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring…”
Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

Just before midnight, October 19th 1906, workers who had been installing a new system in the organ saw flames in the window. Soon fire raged through the building. Glass shattered, flames leapt through the roof, the towers acted as great chimney belching smoke… silver streams of molten lead poured into the church… Selby Abbey was burning. It wasn’t the first time.

Image © Selby Abbey

Image © Selby Abbey

There had been a fire too in 1340 which had caused extensive damage. Parts of the church had never recovered. This time, however, the damage was worse. Fire crews battled to save the Abbey. A special crew were dedicated to an attempt to preserve the great treasure of the East window, keeping it cool and wet against the flames in a desperate effort to protect the fourteenth century glass.

scotland trip jan 15 068The roof of the choir and the belfry were destroyed, as was the interior woodwork and much of the glass. A peal of eight bells in the tower had melted. The devastation of the Abbey, which had survived so long, seemed complete. Given the level of destruction, it would have been understandable if only a chapel had been preserved for future worship and the rest allowed to fall into ruin. The people of Selby, however, had other ideas.

scotland trip jan 15 132Within hours, a restoration fund had been established. Money poured in from across the country. Townsfolk stood at the gates of the Abbey and held sheets into which visitors threw money. The Abbey, it seemed, would, like the proverbial phoenix, rise once more from its own ashes.

“…And so long as you haven’t experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.”

scotland trip jan 15 150The restoration began. The foundations, laid on a meagre three feet of sand, had caused collapse in 1690. At that time the central tower had collapsed, destroying the south transept, and while the tower had been rebuilt, the transept had remained in ruins. Sir George Gilbert Scott had restored the church in the nineteenth century, but it was not until the fire of 1906 that a complete restoration was undertaken.

scotland trip jan 15 100Every scrap of flame-blackened stone had to be cleaned. Woodwork and glass needed to be painstakingly replaced. Yet work progressed rapidly.

Continue reading at France & Vincent

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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2 Responses to Discovering Albion – day 10: Selby Abbey – Phoenix

  1. I’m in awe of the workmanship that goes into these beautiful old churches ❤


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