After the Abbey of St Peter and St Hilda was refounded on the East Cliff in 1078 by Benedictine monks, they decided to found St Mary’s church close by on the cliff to serve the people who lived down in the harbour. It is, as you will have discovered, a very steep climb up the Church Stairs (199 steps) to St Mary’s, and it is thought that some time in the middle ages, probably before the end of the 14th century, a chapel was built to be served by the monks near the bridge and dedicated to St Ninian a Northern monastic saint. When the Abbey was dissolved in 1539, the parish church and the chapel remained for the use of the inhabitants of the growing town. However by the middle of the 18th century, the chapel was no longer adequate for those who were too old or infirm to climb the Church Stairs. The chief citizens of the town tried very hard to persuade the diocese of York to build a new chapel to replace the old one which had become damp, liable to flooding and condemned as “injurious to health” When their efforts failed, they tried a new plan. A group of thirty bought a plot of land in Baxtergate, and petitioned the Archbishop to allow them to build a chapel for themselves, to be served by a priest licensed by the Archbishop. Each put up the sum of £50, a lot of money in those days, and this would give them a one thirtieth share as a Proprietor. As a Proprietor they would have the exclusive use of a free pew in the chapel. The other pews would be let to provide the stipend for the priest, the wages for the clerk, bell ringer and the cleaner. Permission was given and building began in 1777, the chapel opening in 1778 A deed of trust was drawn up which laid down all of the rights and duties of the Proprietors. It was designed to be Archbishop-proof! After all, there was no point in the Proprietors building their chapel if the Archbishop could take it over. This became extremely important in the 1980’s when the diocese tried to close the church. This attempt at closure instigated St Ninian’s departure from the Church of England. Ever since 1864 when a priest called Fr Richard Price was appointed by the Proprietors this church has been very much in the Catholic tradition. He came to Whitby full of zeal for the Oxford movement and it was he who gave the church its present character. His changes were not without anguish and the Archbishop was drawn into conflict, but the Oxford movement prevailed and now as a Catholic parish the faith and practice he introduced continues to this day. The church is no longer owned by Proprietors but is a charitable trust, governed by a board of Trustees. As a Catholic church served by the Order of St Benedict (Benedictines) since 2000, in a very real sense St Ninian’s continues both our Catholic and monastic heritage.