Selby Abbey – What You Need to Know (2024)

Selby Abbey History and Location

Selby Abbey

Selby Abbey, with President George Washington connections, was founded in 1069 under William the Conqueror with Benedict of Auxerre of France and celebrated its 950th anniversary in 2019. Selby Abbey is Grade I listed. Address: Selby Abbey, The Crescent, Selby, England YO8 4PU

Selby is a small Yorkshire town, 12 miles south of York with one of the most superb Abbey churches to be found anywhere in England. Selby Abbey monastery became famous after 1069. Gifts of all kinds were made to it before 1539 and that in time became one of the wealthiest in Yorkshire. It is now the magnificent Anglican Parish Church of Selby, North Yorkshire and is dedicated St Mary the Virgin and St Germain. Between 1069 and 1539 the Abbey was ruled by 35 Abbots.

Although it’s large and decorated like a cathedral (the design of the Abbey was loosely based on Durham Cathedral), Selby Abbey Church is designated as a parish church. The Abbey was the first monastic building established in northern England after the Norman conquest. The Abbey is one of the few churches with monastic foundations to have survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries largely intact other than Westminster Abbey and those that gained cathedral status. As a result, it is one of the largest parish churches in England. The view from Selby Abbey’s Nave has been described as one of the most beautiful, powerful and intriguing church interiors in the land.

Many English Kings made visits to Selby; and nobility visited Selby. Selby Abbey church windows were resplendent with coats of arms of the chief families of the northern counties.

Selby Abbey Minecraft

The residents of Selby voted for 10 of Selby’s treasures to be included in the Krashlabs video game Minecraft.

The 10 objects, ancient treasures, those from the time of Selby Abby’s construction to food products from local businesses.

Here is the list of 10 of Selby’s treasures chosen for Minecraft:

  • Selby Abbey Roof Boss carving, damaged in the fire of 1906
  • Fletcher’s Sauce Bottles
  • Cheeseman’s Shawl 19th Century Shawl
  • Roman Turnhead Facepot of Septimus Severus, Roman Emperor 193-211.
  • Maundy Money Pouch: Selby Abbey was the first church to be honoured as part of the Selby 900 year celebrations.
  • Selby One Pound Banknote, signed by John Foster, banker & merchant, 1st May 1815
  • Selby Abbey Seal of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary & St Germanus, 1282
  • Christie’s Ballroom Plate
  • Selby Abbey Stone Finial
  • Herbal Book

President George Washington Window, Selby

Selby Abbey’s Washington Window has the heraldic arms of President George Washington’s English ancestors depicted in stained glass. Seen high up in the south clerestory in the choir of Selby Abbey is a 14th century stained glass window – 700 years old. The design of this window will look familiar to residents and students of Washington D.C., as it resembles the District of Columbia flag. The Washington Window is believed to commemorate the 15th century Prior of Durham, John Wessington. John Wessington is believed to be the most distinguished of President George Washington’s ancestors.

The Washington coat of arms is comprised of two red bands and three red stars.  The Washington Window depicts a coat of arms belonging to one of President George Washington’s ancestors, the same coat of arms the Washington family used after moving to America. The Washington family originally immigrated from England in 1657, starting with John Washington, the great-great-grandfather of George Washington, who served as a ship’s second officer.

The trading ship, although successful in crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the voyage to Virginia, ran aground and was shipwrecked on the Potomac River, but John Washington safely made it to shore.  Although the ship was eventually salvaged and repaired, he decided to stay in Virginia, living in Westmoreland County, and John Washington never returned to England.

John Washington married Anne, the daughter of a Virginia tobacco planter, Nathaniel Pope.  As a wedding gift, John Washington and his wife Anne Pope received a 700-acre farm. John became a successful planter and soon held additional considerable land possessions.

The Washington family had remained loyal to the deposed English King, Charles I, during the English Civil War. When the English throne was finally restored to Charles II, a reward came his way. In 1674 John Washington (along with his colleague) was honoured with a royal grant for a 5,000-acre piece of property along the Potomac River.

Washington Window at Selby Abbey, near York, England.  President George Washington's English ancestors depicted in stained glass
Selby Abbey – Washington Window. Ancestors of President George Washington

Anne Lister (Gentleman Jack) of Shibden Hall and Shibden Park also had a coat of arms with 3 stars and her father, Captain Jeremy Lister, was involved in the early days of the American Revolution.

Jess Window

The George Washington Window is not the only important stained glass in Selby Abbey church. The east window is one of the largest examples in England of a Jesse Window, which depicts the family tree of Jesus.

Selby Abbey Jess Window

The family tree supposedly began with Jesse, father of King David, as outlined in the Book of Isaiah. The Tree of Jesse was used in medieval stained glass windows, and such windows were naturally called Jesse windows. The best surviving Jesse Window in Britain is this 13th-century example at Selby Abbey in Yorkshire.

This splendid North Yorkshire Abbey has survived many centuries of political and religious turmoil as well as the fire of 1906 which destroyed the choir roof and a peel of 8 bells. In recent industrial era times, its existence has been threatened by extensive environmental damage to its limestone structure. In 2002 Selby Abbey faced closure and was placed on the World Monuments’ Watch List of the World’s 100 Most Endangered Historic Sites.

The Selby Abbey Trust has helped transform the Abbey’s fortunes with a £6-million restoration programme. Selby Abbey is one of the few churches with monastic foundations to have survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries of 1036 to 1541 largely intact, other than Westminster Abbey and those that gained cathedral status. As a result, it is one of the largest parish churches in England. The view from the Nave has been described as one of the most beautiful, powerful and intriguing church interiors in the land.

A defining honour conferred on Selby Abbey was the grant of the Mitre. This was bestowed on 31st May 1256. After 1256 Selby was, therefore, a “Mitred Abbey,” an honour which is shared in the north of England with St Mary’s Abbey, York.

The bestowal of such an honour made the Abbacy of Selby a much-envied position in England, and although the grant was made “in perpetuity”, the privilege was allowed to fall in abeyance for a number of years after the cession of the Abbot in whose time it was conferred. However, on April 11th, 1308, Archbishop Grenefield, with the consent of the Dean and Chapter of York, confirmed the grant, and until the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries Selby Abbey remained a privileged “Mitred Abbey”.

Also worth visiting and only about 30 miles by road is a fine internationally renowned Yorkshire church, the magnificent Beverley Abbey.

Wedding Blessing or Marriage Blessing at Selby Abbey

As a service of ‘Blessing’ isn’t governed by English Marriage Law, you would NOT have to ‘qualify’ by living in Selby or by one of the other categories governed by the Church of England such as if one of your parents or grandparents were married in Selby Abbey. There is no cost for the blessing service itself, but Selby Abbey invites a donation instead. However, any of the extras you might wish to include such as organist, choir or bells would be chargeable.

Selby Abbey Primary School

Selby Abbey Church National School opened in 1858. The present buildings were founded in 1896 to provide church teaching for “Selby Abbey’s Church Children.” The school now accommodates 380 children. Throughout Selby Primary School’s history, it has maintained strong links with Selby Abbey and the school’s children regularly visit Selby Abbey Church.