Marmion, Canto ii. 13; when "Whitby's nuns"
"told, how, in their convent cell,
A Saxon Princess once did dwell.
The lovely Edelfled;
And how of thousand snakes, each one
Was changed into a coil of stone.
When holy Hilda prayed;
Themselves within their holy bound,
Their stony folds had often found;
They told how seafowls' pinions fail
As over Whitby's towers they sail.
And, sinking down, with flutterings faint.
They do their homage to the saint."
So strong was the belief, that the town arms of Whitby—three ammonites on a shield—once represented these shells with snakes' heads. An old Whitby copper token of "Flower Gate," dated 1667, also shows them as coiled snakes with heads.
The fact that ammonites were never found with snakes' heads was, of course, always more or less of a stumbling-block, though the workmen and others frequently got over the difficulty by making and fixing heads to the ammonites on their own account. Plate XXV., Fig. 2, shows two specimens with these forged heads. The town arms of Whitby, upon a cake, are also shown in the plate (Fig. 1).
But the glory of the legend has departed. I have met many people even of late years who still believed in it, but if you ask a man or boy in Whitby now if he knows anything about the petrified snakes of Saint Hilda, the chances are that he will say, "It is all rot! "
I. Silver Water.
(See p. 242.)
The object figured on Plate XXV., Fig. 3, is a wooden ladle cut from the solid, and is about 16½ inches long.
It was brought to me by my friend Mr. MacKeggie, from