Selby Abbey

Why Selby Was Chosen for Its Abbey

When we are told of the vision of St Germain to Benedict, the monk, we naturally wonder why the Saint ordered the monk to go to Selby. There are, of course, many sober-sided, matter-of-fact people who are absolutely sceptical of all such things: they have no use for miracles and visions. But, brushing aside such scepticism, we ask: Did St. Germain know Selby in his life-time? Had he visited in during his travels in the North? And was that the reason that induced him to tell the monk Benedict to go to a strange, far-away place and there build a great church and monastery?

We have no records to which we can turn to for information on such questions. It is possible that Germain visited Selby, but we do not know for certain. Is it probable? It would almost seem so. We know that the Saint visited the North of England, and that he even got as far as the Isel of Man. Moreover, there are Germain touches in Yorkshire. The old church of Marske-by-the-Sea was dedicated to St Germain, and to this day Germain's Street still exists. In the South of Yorkshire Winestead Church bears the same ascription. These old places are distinctly reminiscent of St Germain, and their names not improbably originated in a visit by the Saint during his Northern travels.

But did he pay a visit to the neighbourhood of Selby? It is possible; it is probable. At all events an old field-name still exists in the district which certainly points to a date prior to the foundation of Selby Abbey. It is a portion of land, which is still called "Garmon Carr." Garmon is the name by which Germain was known to the Britons in the days before the Conquest in 1066, and that name still survives in the dedicated of many churches in Wales. The "Alleluia Victory", to which reference has been made, was won at Mold, in Flintshire, and the old name of that place was Maes Garmon, "the Field of Germain". In none of the extensive Abbey records is St Germain ever referred to as Garmon. It is always "Germanus", and the fact that a tract of land in the immediate neighbourhood of Selby still bears the old British name of the Saint, points to a British origin of the field-name, Garmon carr. Possibly - may we not say probably? - this name was given to the territory in consequence of a visit made to the district by the Bishop of Auxerre. If so, then St Germain was acquainted with 'Salebeia', or Selby, its needs and its fitness as a site on which to build a great Abbey Church; and no wonder that when Benedict was told to come to England to erect such a building, Selby was selected for the great honour.