King Arthur in Avalon
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Glastonbury, in addition to many other places, like Caerleon and Tintagel, has been linked to King Arthur. This link though, at Glastonbury, is in death rather than life. The connection of the Isle of Apples or Avalloc, to Avalon was thought to have been first made in about the 12th century and then reported by William of Malmesbury the interpolator, in his De antiquitae Glatoniensis ecclesie and Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia regum Britanniae.
Arthur was the legendary English King - 'Arthur of the Britons', before Saxon times. He was born out of wedlock and raised by wizard Merlin. When only a boy, after many men had tried and failed, Arthur gained the throne by withdrawing the magic sword Excalibur from a stone. The nearby Cadbury Castle, at North Cadbury supposedly became his 'Camelot'.
After his many exploits and stories concerning his Knights, the Round Table and the Holy Grail, he was wounded by Mordred at the battle of Camlan. This was around the year 542 and he was then taken across the water to the Isle of Avalon for his wounds to be healed. Glastonbury would indeed still have been an island at that time, so it was quite possible for a boat to bring him to the only place where any medical attention was available, which would have been at a monastery - Glastonbury Abbey. Arthur was mortally wounded however and it is said he was buried in the cemetery on the south side of the Lady Chapel, at Glastonbury Abbey. He was buried between two stone pyramids and at great depth.
Centuries later (in 1191) prompted by hints and rumours, the monks excavated this same spot in the cemetery and they dug down sixteen feet, to find an oaken coffin. At a depth of seven feet they found a stone beneath which was a leaden cross with an inscription His iacet inclitus Arturius in insula Avalonia - variously interpreted to read 'Here lies King Arthur buried in Avalon'! The coffin contained two bodies - a great man and a woman, whose golden hair was still intact, until touched, when it crumbled away. The bodies were said to be Arthur's and Guinevere's.
A century later in 1278 the bones were placed in caskets and transferred during a state visit by King Edward 1, to a black marble tomb before the High Altar in the great Abbey Church. There they remained until the Abbey was vandalised after the dissolution in 1539. No one has seen, or heard anything of them since.
Legend proclaims that after Arthur's death, a powerful spirit haunted the ruins of the Abbey, appearing as a black-armoured knight with red glowing eyes and a burning desire to eradicate all records of the ancient Arthurian legends, which is why, it is said, that those seeking to discover the truth, find so few facts available.
Today a notice board marks the spot of Arthur's final resting place. Occasionally people lay flowers there to honour this mighty King whose life and death gave birth to so many myths and legends. These mystical tales that still envelope Glastonbury Abbey in a cloak of mystery add to its profoundly rich and timeless history.
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This article is about the town in Somerset. For the festival, see Glastonbury Festival. For other meanings, see Glastonbury (disambiguation).
Coordinates: 51°08′55″N 2°42′50″W51.1485°N 2.7140°W
A view of Glastonbury from the Tor
Glastonbury shown within Somerset
Population 8,784 
OS grid reference ST501390
Shire county Somerset
Region South West
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town GLASTONBURY
Postcode district BA6
Dialling code 01458
Police Avon and Somerset
Fire Devon and Somerset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament Wells
List of places
Glastonbury (/ˈɡlæstənbəri/) is a small town in Somerset, England, situated at a dry point on the low lying Somerset Levels, 23 miles (37 km) south of Bristol. The town, which is in the Mendip district, had a population of 8,784 in the 2001 census. Glastonbury is less than 1 mile (2 km) across the River Brue from Street, which is now larger than Glastonbury.
Evidence from timber trackways such as the Sweet Track show that the town has been inhabited since Neolithic times. Glastonbury Lake Village was an Iron Age village, close to the old course of the River Brue and Sharpham Park approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Glastonbury, that dates back to the Bronze Age. Centwine was the first Saxon patron of Glastonbury Abbey, which dominated the town for the next 700 years. One of the most important abbeys in England, it was the site of Edmund Ironside's coronation as King of England in 1016. Many of the oldest surviving buildings in the town, including the Tribunal, George Hotel and Pilgrims' Inn and the Somerset Rural Life Museum, which is based in an old tithe barn, are associated with the abbey. The Church of St John the Baptist dates from the 15th century.
The town became a centre for commerce, which led to the construction of the market cross, Glastonbury Canal and the Glastonbury and Street railway station, the largest station on the original Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. The Brue Valley Living Landscape is a conservation project managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust and nearby is the Ham Wall National Nature Reserve.
Glastonbury has been described as a New Age community which attracts people with New Age and Neopagan beliefs, and is notable for myths and legends often related to Glastonbury Tor, concerning Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur. In some Arthurian literature Glastonbury is identified with the legendary island of Avalon. Joseph is said to have arrived in Glastonbury and stuck his staff into the ground, when it flowered miraculously into the Glastonbury Thorn. The presence of a landscape zodiac around the town has been suggested but no evidence has been discovered. The Glastonbury Festival, held in the nearby village of Pilton, takes its name from the town.
• 1 History
o 1.1 Prehistory
o 1.2 Middle Ages
o 1.3 Early modern
o 1.4 Modern history
• 2 Mythology and legends
o 2.1 Glastonbury zodiac
• 3 Governance and public services
• 4 Geography
• 5 Climate
• 6 Economy
• 7 Landmarks
• 8 Transport
• 9 Education
• 10 Religious sites
• 11 Sports
• 12 Culture
• 13 Notable people
• 14 References
• 15 Further reading
• 16 External links
During the 7th millennium BC the sea level rose and flooded the valleys and low lying ground surrounding Glastonbury so the Mesolithic people occupied seasonal camps on the higher ground, indicated by scatters of flints. The Neolithic people continued to exploit the reedswamps for their natural resources and started to construct wooden trackways. These included the Sweet Track, west of Glastonbury, which is one of the oldest engineered roads known and was the oldest timber trackway discovered in Northern Europe, until the 2009 discovery of a 6,000 year-old trackway in Belmarsh Prison. Tree-ring dating (dendrochronology) of the timbers has enabled very precise dating of the track, showing it was built in 3807 or 3806 BC. It has been claimed to be the oldest road in the world. The track was discovered in the course of peat digging in 1970, and is named after its discoverer, Ray Sweet. It extended across the marsh between what was then an island at Westhay, and a ridge of high ground at Shapwick, a distance close to 2,000 metres (1.2 mi). The track is one of a network of tracks that once crossed the Somerset Levels. Built in the 39th century BC, during the Neolithic period, the track consisted of crossed poles of ash, oak and lime (Tilia) which were driven into the waterlogged soil to support a walkway that mainly consisted of oak planks laid end-to-end. Since the discovery of the Sweet Track, it has been determined that it was built along the route of an even earlier track, the Post Track, dating from 3838 BC and so 30 years older.
Glastonbury Lake Village was an Iron Age village, close to the old course of the River Brue, on the Somerset Levels near Godney, some 3 miles (5 km) north west of Glastonbury. It covers an area of 400 feet (122 m) north to south by 300 feet (91 m) east to west, and housed around 100 people in five to seven groups of houses, each for an extended family, with sheds and barns, made of hazel and willow covered with reeds, and surrounded either permanently or at certain times by a wooden palisade. The village was built in about 300 BC and occupied into the early Roman period (around 100AD) when it was abandoned, possibly due to a rise in the water level. It was built on a morass on an artificial foundation of timber filled with brushwood, bracken, rubble and clay.
Sharpham Park is a 300-acre (1.2 km2) historic park, 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Glastonbury, which dates back to the Bronze Age.
 Middle Ages
The origin of the name Glastonbury is unclear but when the settlement is first recorded in the 7th and the early 8th century, it was called Glestingaburg. The burg element is Anglo-Saxon and could refer either to a fortified place such as a burh or, more likely, a monastic enclosure, however the Glestinga element is obscure, and may derive from an Old English word or from a Saxon or Celtic personal name. It may derive from a person or kindred group named Glast.
William of Malmesbury in his De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie gives the Old Celtic Ineswitrin (or Ynys Witrin) as its earliest name, and asserts that the founder of the town was the eponymous Glast, a descendant of Cunedda.
Centwine (676–685) was the first Saxon patron of Glastonbury Abbey. In 1016 Edmund Ironside was crowned king at Glastonbury. After his death later that year he was buried at the abbey. To the southwest of the town centre is Beckery, which was once a village in its own right but is now part of the suburbs. Around the 7th and 8th centuries it was occupied by a small monastic community associated with a cemetery.
Sharpham Park was granted by King Eadwig to the then abbot Æthelwold in 957. In 1191 Sharpham Park was conferred by the soon-to-be King John I to the Abbots of Glastonbury, who remained in possession of the park and house until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. From 1539 to 1707 the park was owned by the Duke of Somerset, Sir Edward Seymour, brother of Queen Jane; the Thynne family of Longleat, and the family of Sir Henry Gould. Edward Dyer was born here in 1543. The house is now a private residence and Grade II* listed building. It was the birthplace of Sir Edward Dyer (died 1607) an Elizabethan poet and courtier, the writer Henry Fielding (1707–54), and the cleric William Gould.
In the 1070s St Margaret's Chapel was built on Magdelene Street, originally as a hospital and later as almshouses for the poor. The building dates from 1444. The roof of the hall is thought to have been removed after the Dissolution, and some of the building was demolished in the 1960s. It is Grade II* listed, and a Scheduled ancient monument. In 2010 plans were announced to restore the building.
17th-century engraving of Glastonbury
During the Middle Ages the town largely depended on the abbey but was also a centre for the wool trade until the 18th century. A Saxon-era canal connected the abbey to the River Brue. Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, was executed with two of his monks on 15 November 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries.
During the Second Cornish Uprising of 1497 Perkin Warbeck surrendered when he heard that Giles, Lord Daubeney's troops, loyal to Henry VII were camped at Glastonbury.
 Early modern
In 1693 Glastonbury, Connecticut was founded and named after the English town from which some of the settlers had emigrated. It was originally called "Glistening Town" until the mid-19th century when it was changed in line with Glastonbury, England. A representation of the Glastonbury thorn is incorporated onto the town seal.
The Somerset towns charter of incorporation was received in 1705. Growth in the trade and economy largely depended on the drainage of the surrounding moors. The opening of the Glastonbury Canal produced an upturn in trade, and encouraged local building.
The parish was part of the hundred of Glaston Twelve Hides.
 Modern history
By the middle of the 18th century the Glastonbury Canal drainage problems and competition from the new railways caused a decline in trade, and the town's economy became depressed. The canal was closed on 1 July 1854, and the lock and aqueducts on the upper section were dismantled. The railway opened on 17 August 1854. The lower sections of the canal were given to the Commissioners for Sewers, for use as a drainage ditch. The final section was retained to provide a wharf for the railway company, which was used until 1936, when it passed to the Commissioners of Sewers and was filled in. The Central Somerset Railway merged with the Dorset Central Railway to become the Somerset and Dorset Railway. The main line to Glastonbury closed in 1966.
In the Northover district industrial production of sheepskins, woollen slippers and, later, boots and shoes, developed in conjunction with the growth of C&J Clark in Street. Clarks still has its headquarters in Street, but shoes are no longer manufactured there. Instead, in 1993, redundant factory buildings were converted to form Clarks Village, the first purpose-built factory outlet in the United Kingdom.
During the 19th and 20th centuries tourism developed based on the rise of antiquarianism, the association with the abbey and mysticism of the town. This was aided by accessibility via the rail and road network, which has continued to support the town's economy and led to a steady rise in resident population since 1801.
Glastonbury received national media coverage in 1999 when cannabis plants were found in the town's floral displays.
 Mythology and legends
Holy Thorn, summer 1984. Died in 1991.
Glastonbury is notable for myths and legends concerning Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur. The legend that Joseph of Arimathea retrieved certain holy relics was introduced by the French poet Robert de Boron in his 13th-century version of the grail story, thought to have been a trilogy though only fragments of the later books survive today. The work became the inspiration for the later Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian tales.
De Boron's account relates how Joseph captured Jesus' blood in a cup (the "Holy Grail") which was subsequently brought to Britain. The Vulgate Cycle reworked Boron's original tale. Joseph of Arimathea was no longer the chief character in the Grail origin: Joseph's son, Josephus, took over his role of the Grail keeper. The earliest versions of the grail romance, however, do not call the grail "holy" or mention anything about blood, Joseph or Glastonbury.
History of Christianity
Roman Catholic Church
in England and Wales
Calendar of saints
(Church of England)
Joseph of Arimathea
Legend of Christ in Britain
Christianity in Roman Britain
Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Dissolution of the Monasteries
Puritanism and the Restoration
English Civil War
18th Century Church of England
19th Century Church of England
Church of England (Recent)
• t• e
In 1191, monks at the abbey claimed to have found the graves of Arthur and Guinevere to the south of the Lady Chapel of the Abbey Church, which was visited by a number of contemporary historians including Giraldus Cambrensis. The remains were later moved and were lost during the Reformation. Many scholars suspect that this discovery was a pious forgery to substantiate the antiquity of Glastonbury's foundation, and increase its renown.
In some Arthurian literature Glastonbury is identified with the legendary island of Avalon. An early Welsh poem links Arthur to the Tor in an account of a confrontation between Arthur and Melwas, who had kidnapped Queen Guinevere. According to some versions of the Arthurian legend, Lancelot retreated to Glastonbury Abbey in penance following Arthur's death.
Remains of St. Michael's Church at the summit of Glastonbury Tor
Joseph is said to have arrived in Glastonbury by boat over the flooded Somerset Levels. On disembarking he stuck his staff into the ground and it flowered miraculously into the Glastonbury Thorn (or Holy Thorn). This is said to explain a hybrid Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn) tree that only grows within a few miles of Glastonbury, and which flowers twice annually, once in spring and again around Christmas time (depending on the weather). Each year a sprig of thorn is cut, by the local Anglican vicar and the eldest child from St John's School, and sent to the Queen.
The original Holy Thorn was a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages but was chopped down during the English Civil War. A replacement thorn was planted in the 20th century on Wearyall hill (originally in 1951 to mark the Festival of Britain; but the thorn had to be replanted the following year as the first attempt did not take). Many other examples of the thorn grow throughout Glastonbury including those in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey, St Johns Church and Chalice Well.
Today Glastonbury Abbey presents itself as "traditionally the oldest above-ground Christian church in the world," which according to the legend was built at Joseph's behest to house the Holy Grail, 65 or so years after the death of Jesus. The legend also says that as a child, Jesus had visited Glastonbury along with Joseph. The legend probably was encouraged during the medieval period when religious relics and pilgrimages were profitable business for abbeys. William Blake mentioned the legend in a poem that became a popular hymn, "Jerusalem" (see And did those feet in ancient time).
 Glastonbury zodiac
Main article: Temple of the Stars
In 1934 artist Katherine Maltwood suggested a landscape zodiac, a map of the stars on a gigantic scale, formed by features in the landscape such as roads, streams and field boundaries, could be found situated around Glastonbury.  She held that the "temple" was created by Sumerians about 2700 BC. The idea of a prehistoric landscape zodiac fell into disrepute when two independent studies examined the Glastonbury Zodiac, one by Ian Burrow in 1975  and the other by Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy in 1983.  These both used standard methods of landscape historical research. Both studies concluded that the evidence contradicted the idea of an ancient zodiac. The eye of Capricorn identified by Maltwood was a haystack. The western wing of the Aquarius phoenix was a road laid in 1782 to run around Glastonbury, and older maps dating back to the 1620s show the road had no predecessors. The Cancer boat (not a crab as in conventional western astrology) consists of a network of 18th-century drainage ditches and paths. There are some Neolithic paths preserved in the peat of the bog formerly comprising most of the area, but none of the known paths match the lines of the zodiac features. There is no support for this theory, or for the existence of the "temple" in any form, from conventional archaeologists. Glastonbury is also said to be the centre of several ley lines.
 Governance and public services
The Town Hall
The town council is made up of 16 members, and is based at the Town Hall, Magdalene Street. The town hall was built in 1818 and has a two-storey late Georgian ashlar front. It is a Grade II* listed building.
Glastonbury is in the local government district of Mendip, which is part of the county of Somerset. It was previously administered by Glastonbury Municipal Borough. The Mendip district council is responsible for local planning and building control, local roads, council housing, environmental health, markets and fairs, refuse collection and recycling, cemeteries and crematoria, leisure services, parks, and tourism. Somerset County Council is responsible for running the largest and most expensive local services such as education, social services, the library, road maintenance, trading standards, waste disposal and strategic planning.
The town's retained fire station is operated by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, whilst police and ambulance services are provided by Avon and Somerset Constabulary and the South Western Ambulance Service. There are two doctors' surgeries in Glastonbury, and a National Health Service community hospital operated by Somerset Primary Care Trust which opened in 2005.
Glastonbury falls within the Wells constituency, represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election. The Member of Parliament is Tessa Munt of the Liberal Democrats. It is within the South West England (European Parliament constituency), which elects six MEPs using the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.
Glastonbury is twinned with the Greek island of Patmos, and Lalibela, Ethiopia.
Street and Glastonbury Tor viewed from Walton Hill
The walk up the Tor to the distinctive tower at the summit (the partially restored remains of an old church) is rewarded by vistas of the mid-Somerset area, including the Levels which are drained marshland. From there, on a dry point, 158 metres (518 ft) above sea level, it is easy to appreciate how Glastonbury was once an island and, in the winter, the surrounding moors are often flooded, giving that appearance once more. It is an agricultural region typically with open fields of permanent grass, surrounded by ditches with willow trees. Access to the moors and Levels is by "droves", i.e., green lanes. The Levels and inland moors can be 6 metres (20 ft) below peak tides and have large areas of peat. The low lying areas are underlain by much older Triassic age formations of Upper Lias sand that protrude to form what would once have been islands and include Glastonbury Tor. The lowland landscape was formed only during the last 10,000 years, following the end of the last ice age.
The low lying damp ground can produce a visual effect known as a Fata Morgana. This optical phenomenon occurs because rays of light are strongly bent when they pass through air layers of different temperatures in a steep thermal inversion where an atmospheric duct has formed. The Italian name Fata Morgana is derived from the name of Morgan le Fay, who was alternatively known as Morgane, Morgain, Morgana and other variants. Morgan le Fay was described as a powerful sorceress and antagonist of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in the Arthurian legend.
Glastonbury is less than 1 mile (2 km) across the River Brue from the village of Street. At the time of King Arthur the Brue formed a lake just south of the hilly ground on which Glastonbury stands. This lake is one of the locations suggested by Arthurian legend as the home of the Lady of the Lake. Pomparles Bridge stood at the western end of this lake, guarding Glastonbury from the south, and it is suggested that it was here that Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur into the waters after King Arthur fell at the Battle of Camlann. The old bridge was replaced by a reinforced concrete arch bridge in 1911.
Until the 13th century, the direct route to the sea at Highbridge was prevented by gravel banks and peat near Westhay. The course of the river partially encircled Glastonbury from the south, around the western side (through Beckery), and then north through the Panborough-Bleadney gap in the Wedmore-Wookey Hills, to join the River Axe just north of Bleadney. This route made it difficult for the officials of Glastonbury Abbey to transport produce from their outlying estates to the abbey, and when the valley of the River Axe was in flood it backed up to flood Glastonbury itself. Some time between 1230 and 1250 a new channel was constructed westwards into Meare Pool north of Meare, and further westwards to Mark Moor. The Brue Valley Living Landscape is a conservation project based on the Somerset Levels and Moors and managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. The project commenced in January 2009 and aims to restore, recreate and reconnect habitat, ensuring that wildlife is enhanced and capable of sustaining itself in the face of climate change, while guaranteeing farmers and other landowners can continue to use their land profitably. It is one of an increasing number of landscape scale conservation projects in the UK.
The town centre in summer 2010
The Ham Wall National Nature Reserve, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) west of Glastonbury, is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This new wetland habitat has been established from out peat diggings and now consists of areas of reedbed, wet scrub, open water and peripheral grassland and woodland. Bird species living on the site include the Bearded Tit and the Bittern.
The Whitelake River rises between two low limestone ridges to the north of Glastonbury, part of the southern edge of the Mendip Hills. The confluence of the two small streams that make the Whitelake River is on Worthy Farm, the site of the Glastonbury Festival, between the small villages of Pilton and Pylle.
Along with the rest of South West England, Glastonbury has a temperate climate which is generally wetter and milder than the rest of the country. The annual mean temperature is approximately 10 °C (50.0 °F). Seasonal temperature variation is less extreme than most of the United Kingdom because of the adjacent sea temperatures. The summer months of July and August are the warmest with mean daily maxima of approximately 21 °C (69.8 °F). In winter mean minimum temperatures of 1 °C (33.8 °F) or 2 °C (35.6 °F) are common. In the summer the Azores high pressure affects the south-west of England, however convective cloud sometimes forms inland, reducing the number of hours of sunshine. Annual sunshine rates are slightly less than the regional average of 1,600 hours. In December 1998 there were 20 days without sun recorded at Yeovilton. Most the rainfall in the south-west is caused by Atlantic depressions or by convection. Most of the rainfall in autumn and winter is caused by the Atlantic depressions, which is when they are most active. In summer, a large proportion of the rainfall is caused by sun heating the ground leading to convection and to showers and thunderstorms. Average rainfall is around 700 mm (28 in). About 8–15 days of snowfall is typical. November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, and June to August have the lightest winds. The predominant wind direction is from the south-west.
The High Street
Glastonbury is a centre for religious tourism and pilgrimage. As with many towns of similar size, the centre is not as thriving as it once was but Glastonbury supports a large number of alternative shops.
The outskirts of the town contain a DIY shop a former sheepskin and slipper factory site, once owned by Morlands, which is slowly being redeveloped. The 31-acre (13 ha) site of the old Morlands factory was scheduled for demolition and redevelopment into a new light industrial park, although there have been some protests that the buildings should be reused rather than being demolished. As part of the redevelopment of the site a project has been established by the Glastonbury Community Development Trust to provide support for local unemployed people applying for employment, starting in self-employment and accessing work-related training.
The Tribunal was a medieval merchant's house, used as the Abbey courthouse and, during the Monmouth Rebellion trials, by Judge Jeffreys. It now serves as a museum containing possessions and works of art from the Glastonbury Lake Village which were preserved in almost perfect condition in the peat after the village was abandoned. The museum is run by the Glastonbury Antiquarian Society. The building also houses the tourist information centre.
George Hotel and Pilgrims' Inn
The octagonal Market Cross was built in 1846 by Benjamin Ferrey.
The George Hotel and Pilgrims' Inn was built in the late 15th century to accommodate visitors to Glastonbury Abbey, which is open to visitors. It has been designated as a Grade I listed building. The front of the 3-storey building is divided into 3 tiers of panels with traceried heads. Above these are 3 carved panels with arms of the Abbey and Edward IV.
The Somerset Rural Life Museum is a museum of the social and agricultural history of Somerset, housed in buildings surrounding a 14th-century barn once belonging to Glastonbury Abbey. It was used for the storage of arable produce, particularly wheat and rye, from the abbey's home farm of approximately 524 acres (2.12 km2). Threshing and winnowing would also have been carried out in the barn, which was built from local "shelly" limestone with thick timbers supporting the stone tiling of the roof. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building, and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Cover of the Chalice Well
The Chalice Well is a holy well at the foot of the Tor, covered by a wooden well-cover with wrought-iron decoration made in 1919. The natural spring has been in almost constant use for at least two thousand years. Water issues from the spring at a rate of 25,000 imperial gallons (110,000 l; 30,000 US gal) per day and has never failed, even during drought. Iron oxide deposits give the water a reddish hue, as dissolved ferrous oxide becomes oxygenated at the surface and is precipitated, providing chalybeate waters. As with the hot springs in nearby Bath, the water is believed to possess healing qualities. The well is about 9 feet (2.7 m) deep, with two underground chambers at its bottom. It is often portrayed as a symbol of the female aspect of deity, with the male symbolised by Glastonbury Tor. As such, it is a popular destination for pilgrims in search of the divine feminine, including modern Pagans. The well is however popular with all faiths and in 2001 became a World Peace Garden.
Glastonbury Tor from Street
The Glastonbury Canal ran just over 14 miles (23 km) through two locks from Glastonbury to Highbridge where it entered the Bristol Channel in the early 19th century, but it became uneconomic with the arrival of the railway in the 1840s.
Glastonbury and Street railway station was the biggest station on the original Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway main line from Highbridge to Evercreech Junction until closed in 1966 under the Beeching axe. Opened in 1854 as Glastonbury, and renamed in 1886, it had three platforms, two for Evercreech to Highbridge services and one for the branch service to Wells. The station had a large goods yard controlled from a signal box. The site is now a timber yard for a local company. Replica level crossing gates have been placed at the entrance.
The main road in the town is the A39 which passes through Glastonbury from Wells connecting the town with Street and the M5 motorway. The other roads around the town are small and run across the levels generally following the drainage ditches. Local bus services are provided by Badgerline, Nippy Bus, National Express and local community groups.
There are several infant and primary schools in Glastonbury and the surrounding villages. Secondary education is provided by St Dunstan's Community School. As of 2009, the school had 639 students between the ages of 11 and 16 years. It is named after St. Dunstan, an abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, who went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 AD. The school was built in 1958 with major building work, at a cost of £1.2 million, in 1998, adding the science block and the sports hall. It was designated as a specialist Arts College in 2004, and the £800,000 spent at this time paid for the Performing Arts studio and facilities to support students with special educational needs.
Strode College in Street provides academic and vocational courses for those aged 16–18 and adult education. A tertiary institution and further education college, most of the courses it offers are A-levels or Business and Technology Education Councils (BTECs). The college also provides some university-level courses, and is part of The University of Plymouth Colleges network.
 Religious sites
Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury may have been a site of religious importance in pre-Christian times. The abbey was founded by Britons, and dates to at least the early 7th century, although later medieval Christian legend claimed that the abbey was founded by Joseph of Arimathea in the 1st century. This fanciful legend is intimately tied to Robert de Boron's version of the Holy Grail story and to Glastonbury's connection to King Arthur, which dates at least to the early 12th century. Glastonbury fell into Saxon hands after the Battle of Peonnum in 658. King Ine of Wessex enriched the endowment of the community of monks already established at Glastonbury. He is said to have directed that a stone church be built in 712. The Abbey Church was enlarged in the 10th century by the Abbot of Glastonbury, Saint Dunstan, the central figure in the 10th-century revival of English monastic life. He instituted the Benedictine Rule at Glastonbury and built new cloisters. Dunstan became Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. In 1184, a great fire at Glastonbury destroyed the monastic buildings. Reconstruction began almost immediately and the Lady Chapel, which includes the well, was consecrated in 1186.
Church of St John the Baptist
The abbey had a violent end during the Dissolution and the buildings were progressively destroyed as their stones were removed for use in local building work. The remains of the Abbot's Kitchen (a grade I listed building.) and the Lady Chapel are particularly well-preserved set in 36 acres (150,000 m2) of parkland. It is approached by the Abbey Gatehouse which was built in the mid-14th century and completely restored in 1810.
The Church of St Benedict was rebuilt by Abbot Richard Beere in about 1520.
The Church of St John the Baptist dates from the 15th century and has been designated as a Grade I listed building. The church is laid out in a cruciform plan with an aisled nave and a clerestorey of seven bays. The west tower has elaborate buttressing, panelling and battlements. The interior of the church includes four 15th-century tomb-chests, some 15th-century stained glass in the chancel, medieval vestments, and a domestic cupboard of about 1500 which was once at Witham Charterhouse.
The United Reformed Church on the High Street was built in 1814 and altered in 1898. It stands on the site of the Ship Inn where meetings were held during the 18th century. It is Grade II listed.
The Catholic Church of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury was built, on land near to the Abbey, in 1939. A statue based on a 14th century metal seal was blessed in 1955 and crowned in 1965 restoring the Marian shrine that had been in the Abbey prior to the reformation.
The Glastonbury Goddess Temple was founded in 2002 and registered as a place of worship the following year. It is self-described as the first temple of its kind to exist in Europe in over a thousand years.
Tor Leisure Ground home of Glastonbury Cricket Club
The local football side is Glastonbury Town F.C.. They joined the Western Football League Division Two as Glastonbury in 1919 and won the Western Football League title three times in their history. They changed their name to Glastonbury Town in 2003. For the 2010–11 season, they are members of the Somerset County Football League Premier Division.
Glastonbury Cricket Club competes in the West of England Premier League, one of the ECB Premier Leagues, the highest level of recreational cricket in England and Wales. The club plays at the Tor Leisure Ground, which used to stage Somerset County Cricket Club first-class fixtures.
Glastonbury has been described as a New Age community where communities have grown up to include people with New Age beliefs.
In a 1904 novel by Charles Whistler entitled A Prince of Cornwall Glastonbury in the days of Ine of Wessex is portrayed. It is also a setting in the Warlord Chronicles, a trilogy of books about Arthurian Britain written by Bernard Cornwell. Modern fiction has also used Glastonbury as a setting including The Age of Misrule series of books by Mark Chadbourn in which the Watchmen appear, a group selected from Anglican priests in and around Glastonbury to safeguard knowledge of a gate to the Otherworld on top of Glastonbury Tor. John Cowper Powys's novel A Glastonbury Romance is set in Glastonbury and is concerned with the Grail.
The first Glastonbury Festivals were a series of cultural events held in summer, from 1914 to 1926. The festivals were founded by English socialist composer Rutland Boughton and his librettist Lawrence Buckley. Apart from the founding of a national theatre, they envisaged a summer school and music festival based on utopian principles. With strong Arthurian connections and historic and prehistoric associations, Glastonbury was chosen to host the festivals.
The more recent Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts, founded in 1970, is now the largest open-air music and performing arts festival in the world. Although it is named for Glastonbury, it is held at Worthy Farm between the small villages of Pilton and Pylle, 6 miles (9.7 km) east of the town of Glastonbury. The festival is best known for its contemporary music, but also features dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret and many other arts. For 2005, the enclosed area of the festival was over 900 acres (3.6 km2), had over 385 live performances and was attended by around 150,000 people. In 2007, over 700 acts played on over 80 stages and the capacity expanded by 20,000 to 177,000. The festival has spawned a range of other work including the 1972 film Glastonbury Fayre and album, 1996 film Glastonbury the Movie and the 2005 DVD Glastonbury Anthems.
The Children's World charity grew out of the festival and is based in the town. It is known internationally (as Children's World International). It was set up by Arabella Churchill in 1981 to provide drama participation and creative play and to work creatively in educational settings, providing social and emotional benefits for all children, particularly those with special needs. Children's World International is the sister charity of Children's World and was started in 1999 to work with children in the Balkans, in conjunction with Balkan Sunflowers and Save the Children. They also run the Glastonbury Children's Festival each August.
Glastonbury is one of the venues for the annual West Country Carnival.
 Notable people
Glastonbury has been the birthplace or home to many notable people. Peter King, 1st Baron King was the recorder of Glastonbury in 1705. Thomas Bramwell Welch the discoverer of the pasteurisation process to prevent the fermentation of grape juice was born in Glastonbury in 1825. The judge John Creighton represented Lunenburg County in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly from 1770 to 1775. The fossil collector Thomas Hawkins lived in the town during the 19th century.
The religious connections and mythology of the town have also attracted several authors. The occultist and writer Dion Fortune (Violet Mary Firth) lived and is buried in Glastonbury. Her old house is now home to the writer and historian Geoffrey Ashe, who is known for his works on local legends. Frederick Bligh Bond, archaeologist and writer. Eckhart Tolle, a German-born writer, public speaker, and spiritual teacher lived in Glastonbury during the 1980s. Eileen Caddy was at a sanctuary in Glastonbury when she first claimed to have heard the "voice of God" while meditating. Her subsequent instructions from the "voice" directed her to take on Sheena Govan has her spiritual teacher, and became a spiritual teacher and new age author, best known as one of the founders of the Findhorn Foundation community. Sally Morningstar, a Wiccan High Priestess and the author of at least twenty-six books on magic, astrology, Ayurveda, Wicca, divination and spirituality teaches Hedge Witchcraft and Natural Magic in Glastonbury, and lives in Somerset.
Popular entertainment and literature is also represented amongst the population. Rutland Boughton moved from Birmingham to Glastonbury in 1911 and established the country's first national annual summer school of music. Gary Stringer, lead singer of Reef, was a local along with other members of the band, as are the band Flipron. The juggler Haggis McLeod and his late wife, Arabella Churchill, one of the founders of the Glastonbury Festival, lived in the town. The author and dramatist Nell Leyshon and she has set much of her work in the local area. Sarah Fielding, the 18th-century author and sister of the novelist Henry Fielding, lived in the town. Michael Aldridge, a character actor who appeared as Seymour in the television series Last of the Summer Wine, was born in Glastonbury. The conductor Charles Hazlewood lives locally and hosts the "Play the Field" music festival on his farm nearby. Bill Bunbury moved on from Glastonbury to become a writer, radio broadcaster, and producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Athletes and sports players have also been resident. Cricketers born in the town include Cyril Baily in 1880, George Burrough in 1907, and Eustace Bisgood in 1878. The footballer Peter Spiring was born in Glastonbury in 1950.
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Legends of King Arthur swirl about Glastonbury like a tantalizing fog from the nearby Somerset marshes. The nearby hill fort at South Cadbury has long been suggested as the location for Camelot. Indeed, excavations of South Cadbury suggest that it was in use during the early 6th century, which is the likeliest era for the real Arthur to have lived.
The association of Arthur and Glastonbury goes back at least to the early Middle Ages. In the late 12th century the monks of Glastonbury Abbey announced that they had found the grave of Arthur and Guinivere, his queen. According to the monks, an excavation found a stone inscribed "Here lies Arthur, king." Below the stone they found the bones of a large man, and the smaller skeleton of a woman. The monks reburied the bones in the grounds of the abbey, where they were a very handy draw for pilgrims. The site of the grave can be seen today in the abbey grounds.
Glastonbury Tor, the enigmatic conical hill that rises above Glastonbury, has been linked with the Isle of Avalon, where King Arthur was buried after his death. This isn't so farfetched as it may sound, for a millennium ago the water level was much higher, and the tor would indeed have been an island. Avalon was also called "the isle of glass" which does suggest similarities to the name "Glastonbury".
The Holy Grail, the object of Arthur's questing, is said to be buried beneath Glastonbury Tor, and has also been linked to Chalice Well at the base of the Tor.
One final myth of Arthur at Glastonbury: the landscape around Glastonbury is said to have been moulded and shaped so that the features (such as roads, churches, and burial mounds) create a zodiac calendar replete with Arthurian symbology. Like so many of the Arthurian myths, so much is open to interpretation and your own predisposition to believe or disbelieve.
Beside the main roads leading into the dreamy Somerset town of Glastonbury, are a series of signboards welcoming all to 'The Ancient Avalon', and causing a nationwide controversy. Glastonbury claims to be Avalon, to be the final resting place of King Arthur, and the site to which the Holy Grail was borne to by Joseph of Arimethea. The claim dates back to some enterprising monks in the late twelfth century, who decided to reap the benefit from the popular Arthurian legends circulating at the time. They claimed to have found the tomb of Arthur in 1190, with an inscription conveniently claiming Glastonbury to be Avalon, which ensured they received flocks of pilgrims bearing donations, coming to see the holy relics.
This practice is still used today, as the Somerset tourist board sell themselves as the 'Land of Legend', Ancient Avalon, and continue to draw pilgrims in the shape of tourists and new age travellers on what the media dubbed the 'Grail Trail'.
The Arthur legend is quite possibly the chief myth of Britain, with well over a hundred sites across the country claiming links with him and his chivalrous knights. The legend has proved rather profitable for Glastonbury in the last eight hundred years. To many experts it is now generally accepted that the monks faked the inscription and the tomb, and that Glastonbury has no right to continue to use Arthur as a means for attracting visitors. But even if Glastonbury never was Avalon, the two have become inseparable.
So who was Arthur, this figure of nationalistic nostalgia, a figure from which radiates waves of legend, and how did Arthur, Avalon, the Cup of Christ, and Glastonbury become intertwined? Arthur is probably no more than a pseudo historical figure, brought to life by the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Caradoc of Llancarfan, Robert De Boron, Laymon, Chretien De Troyes and most notably Sir Thomas Malory. In recent years the Arthur legend has gained more momentum with the hit musical Camelot, John Boorman's 'Excalibur', Walt Disney's 'Sword in the Stone' Monty Pythons 'The Holy Grail' and First Knight starring Sean Connery and Richard Gere. To find Arthur, the figure who inspired the monks of Glastonbury, the medieval literature of the period must be examined.
Arthur was supposedly a Celtic tribal leader in the period after the retreat of the Romans from Britain. He fought on the side of Ambrosius Aurelianus in holding back the invading Angles, and led the British at the battle of Badon (which supposedly took place before 540AD), and died at the battle of Camlan. So how did a Celtic warrior come to be portrayed as a feudal, Christian King, living in a castle, wearing shinning armour and carrying a magical sword? Ever since the tales of Arthur were first told, each new author has added to the myth, with their own special ingredient. The key point to remember is that Arthur has evolved with each new century that has passed, and has continued to grow in popularity with each new telling. The King Arthur we recognise today, is far removed from the battling warlord on whom he was based. Arthur has come to represent the warrior spirit of Britain, a male Britannia, who is supposed to awake and ride to the countries rescue in its hour of need; the once and future king.
So who was responsible for Arthur's fortuitous evolution? The first figure of note referred to by all Arthurian historians, is a monk named Gildas, who wrote a book called De Excidio Conquestu Britanniae (on the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) in 540AD. This may seem slightly premature, as nowhere in the work does he mention Arthur. Gildas was the son of a British Aristocrat, who attended a school in Wales founded by St Illtud. His book is a criticism aimed at his fellow countrymen, and their failure to live up to the deeds of their forefathers, the stout men who subdued Hengist's Saxons. The book mentions a phase of catastrophe before Ambrosius Aurelainus began to hold the Saxons back, and their final defeat at the battle of Badon, which he wrote about from memory, so it supposedly happened before 540AD. So why look at Gildas? Nennius, a later writer, states Arthur was the dux beliorum (leader of battles), and led the British at the battle of Badon, which, as Gildas had mentioned this earlier, gave the claim more validity, i.e., the battle was written about within living memory, but it also helped to date Arthur. But Gildas never actually mentioned Arthur. As it turns out Gildas didn't mention many people in his book, except Ambrosius, whom it is suggested by Philips (1992) he probably admired. Therefore, seeing as he refrains from mentioning other historical figures, he could easily have ignored Arthur's part, and as he does not mention who led the British at Badon, the claims of Nennius cannot be disproved.
As Gildas became more embroiled within the Arthur legend, people began to assume that they had known one another. Caradoc of Llancarfan, writing in the early twelfth century, states that Arthur played a part in the monk's life, and states as such in his work entitled Vita Gildae (The life of Gildas). However an earlier Vitae Gildea by a Breton monk called Rhuys, fails to mention this point entirely. Another tale surrounding Gildas is that he met Arthur at Glastonbury, and mediated a dispute between him and a local chieftain. This mirrors another tale from Caradoc, who states that a dispute between king Melwas of Somerset and Arthur, was mediated by the Abbot of Glastonbury. (Incidentally, Caradoc was the first writer to mention Glastonbury in connection with Arthur and made no attempt to associate it with Avalon). By the ninth century Arthur was already a folk hero, and by the early twelfth century, the tales of Britain's greatest hero were being elaborated upon.
Nennius was a monk living in Bangor around 800AD, and is considered to be the author of the first accounts of Arthur. The following extract is from that work:
"In time the Saxons strengthened in multitude and grew in Britain. On the death of Hengiest, Octcha his son passed from the Northern part of Britain to the Kingdom of the Kentishmen and from him arise the Kings of the Kentishmen. Then Arthur fought against them in those days with the kings of the Britons, but he himself was the leader of battles. The first battle was at the mouth of the river Glein. The second, third, forth, and fifth upon another river which is called Dubglas, in the district of Linnuis. The sixth battle upon a river, which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the Caledonian wood that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was in Fort Guinnion in which Arthur carried the image of St Mary the Virgin, his mother. The ninth battle was waged in the city of the legion. The tenth battle he fought on the shore of a river called Tribruit. The eleventh battle took place on a mountain, which is called Agned. The twelfth was on Mount Badon, in which nine hundred and sixty men fell in one day from one attack by Arthur, and no one overthrew them except himself alone. And in all the battles he was the victor."
Nennius claimed to have compiled the work from what he described as a 'heap' of documents at his disposal, however none of the references have since been traced. He doesn't mention Ambrosius at all, but, as seen from the above passage, goes on at length about Arthur's campaign, which he took from a poem (circa early sixth century), listing twelve of his victories in order, culminating with the battle of Badon. It has however proven near impossible to determine where these actual battle sites are, except for Badon, which is considered to be somewhere near Bath in the county of Avon. As for Arthur single-handedly killing nine hundred and sixty men, surely this is beyond the capabilities of one man alone. It is thus justly speculated that perhaps Arthur's host was the only one present at the battle, and he wasn't joined by any allied troops.
I am not actually trying to discover who Arthur was, but plot how he changed into his present form, therefore I don't intent to scrutinise the evidential status of these documents. It is enough to know that in the early ninth century a warrior was written about, and he was deemed to be the 'dux bellorum' who finally defeated the Saxon hordes at the battle of Badon, in the early sixth century. A battle that was attested to by Gildas writing from the time that it took place. Whether what Nenius said was true or not doesn't matter. This being the earliest written record based on a poem from the time of the exploits, it is probably the nearest we will get to Arthur in his most basic form. From here on he becomes exaggerated into mythic proportions.
Possibly written around 950AD, comes the Annals Cambriae (Annals of Wales), which discusses events dating back over five hundred and thirty three years, in the form of an incomplete chronology of dates with brief notations. There are two prominent quotes that concern Arthur to be found within them.
"The battle of Badon, where Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and nights, and the Britons were victorious".
"The strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut perished, and there was a plague in Britain and Ireland".
The first quote is dated 518AD, whilst the second is dated 539AD. Here again Arthur is mentioned in connection to Badon, which has now been described as a three-day event. There is again the claim that Arthur went into battle with a Christian mantle, however, this time it is described as the cross of Christ, not the image of the Virgin Mary. Nennius only mentioned him baring the Christian symbol in one battle, this being his eighth.
Have the two been mixed up at some point? It is impossible to say whether the stories have somehow become muddled over the years, due to the fact that each give small bits of information, that do not contradict one another.
The Annals of Cambriae are the first written text known to mention Camlann and Arthur's death at that battle. That is if you refer to a battle as a strife? It is also the first mention of Medraut, although no explanation as to who he is mentioned.
The Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) Written in the early twelfth century includes a list of Arthur's battles, just as Nennius had previously supplied. Together, these three documents, the Annals Cambriae, Historia Brittonum and the works of Nennius for the backbone to all Arthurian mythology.
Nennius seems to have been the primary source for William of Malmesbury and his Gesta Regum Anglorum (Acts of the Kings of the English). By the time William was writing (1125AD), there was a host of Arthurian tales being spread by word of mouth throughout the country. William mentions these and disregards them as pure myth. Williams's work is probably the first time the Arthurian tales were brought together, and the last time that folklore was separated from then accepted historical fact. The Gesta Regum Anglocorum identifies Arthur helping Ambrosius Aurelianus in fighting the Angles, and refers to his triumph at the siege of Mount Badon, where Arthur bore the image of the Virgin Mary throughout the battle. As you can see, Badon has been upgraded to a siege. As William didn't mention Camlann it is suspected that he didn't consult the Annales Cambriae, which is contemporary, however Geoffrey of Monmouth almost certainly did.
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a Welsh Cleric who eventually became Bishop of St Asaph. His work entitled Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the King's of Britain), which he wrote while at Oxford around 1136AD, is generally regarded as the foundation for all future Arthurian stories. The book was not intended to be seen as a work of fiction, and was supposed to represent a highly accurate historical record of the British Monarchy climaxing with the reign of King Arthur. However, coming from a time when accurate historical record were practically non-existent, and history was not seen as a discipline based solely on interpretation of proven fact, Geoffrey probably felt free to exaggerate history as he saw fit. How much he drew on existing documentation, and how much he purely invented is impossible to say, especially as he claimed to own the only true account of Arthur's life in the form of an ancient book, entrusted to him by Archdeacon Walter. Needless to say this claim has never been validated.
The Historia Regum Britanniae has its account of the fifth and sixth centuries based on established historical figures and events. He portrays Vortigern as a usurping king of Britain who brought over the Saxons to bolster his own positions of power, until they got out of hand. Ambrosius, seen as the rightful sovereign lord who overthrows Vortigern, and pushes the Saxons back. Geoffrey is the first to mention Uther Pendragon as Ambrosius's successor and Arthur's father. Arthur succeeds his father, subdues the Saxons, and reigns until the battler of Camlann. If he had stopped there his work might have been credible, but he goes on to give a detailed account of all Arthur's campaigns in Britain, and all his conquests in foreign empires overseas. Geoffrey's Arthur reigned from a glorious court, and carried a sword named Caliburn, that was fashioned on the mystical isle of Avalon (Insula Avallonis), where Morgan and her eight sisters ruled over a population that had a life expectancy of well over a hundred years.
He also introduced the esoteric Merlin the Magician, Arthur's adviser and court sorcerer, who now has as great a following as Arthur, if not more. Not content with introducing just friendly wizards, magical islands and new fantastic conquests, Geoffrey states that Arthur did not die at the battle of Camlann, but was borne away by the good sisters of Avalon, to be healed and live with them there.
Geoffrey's work was rather successful, and the Anglo-Norman monarchs who ruled Britain were apparently pleased to believe in him, and associate themselves with the heritage of the Kingdom their ancestors had conquered.
Wace is generally the first European writer to be influenced by Monmouth and he composed a poem entitled Roman de Brut (The Romance of Brutus) in 1155. Although Wace doesn't feature prominently as an architect in the Arthurian mythos, he was the first to introduce an item that is inseparable from Arthur, his magnificent 'Round Table' around which sat his fifty greatest knights. Geoffrey gained considerable literary support, and as the imaginations of a medley of writers flourished the Arthurian Romances were born. Arthur's kingdom became a chivalric utopia after the five stories from Chretien de Troyes between 1160 and 1180AD, with Arthur as a steadfast but fair Christian ruler, with a polished order of goodly knights. Chretien was the first to introduce Guinevere as Arthur's wife, and Sir Lancelot, the king's champion, friend and the queen's lover. Chretien set his stage for courtly romance, and was the first to name it as Camelot.
During the period of the Arthurian Romances, Camelot changed from being a castle to a magnificent city. Separate tales were told of the round table knights, such as Gawain and the Green Knight, the quest for the Holy Grail, and the drama surrounding the sword in the stone and the rightful heir to the kingdom. Many of the classic tales mirror those of older Celtic tradition, updated, modernised, and told in medieval terms.
It was at this time that the monks of Glastonbury Abbey took notice of Arthur and his popularity. In 1184 the abbey had been gutted by a great fire, and the monks were in need of financial support for the restoration. It was thus extremely convenient that they discovered Arthur's tomb fifty feet from the South door of Lady's Chapel. Apparently the location of the tomb had been entrusted to one of the previous Abbots by Henry II a good many years earlier. Henry had been told of the grave's location by a Welsh bard that he encountered while he was travelling in Wales. The monks dug down to a depth of seven feet, and encountered a leaden cross bearing an inscription in Latin;
Hic iacet sepultus inclytus rex arthurius in insula avallonia cum uxore sua secunda wenneveria (Here lies the renown King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon with his second wife Guinevere)
Arthur's Cross: by Daniel ParkinsonThe actual cross disappeared many years ago and the only depiction is from a drawing by William Camden in 1607, from which this picture has been redrawn. Further excavation down another nine feet revealed a large coffin carved from a solid oak, this contained the skeleton of a large man with a head wound, and a lock of golden hair, that is supposed to have been Guinevere's; this turned to dust when handled. The grave was either a fake, or a complete stroke of luck, for the monks could now profit from Arthur's popularity. Not only that but the cross labelled Glastonbury as the magical mythical Isle of Avalon, an added bonus. But what about Guinevere being Arthur's second wife, again this was fortuitous, for at that time there were two equally popular Arthurian sagas, one naming his wife as Guinevere, and the other as Ganhumara. So everybody was kept happy.
Some years later it became generally accepted that Guinevere was Arthur's one true wife. It was then claimed by the monks that the cross had purely stated:
Hic iacet sepultus inclitus rex arturius in insula avalonia (Here lies the renown King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon)
The new inscription was slightly different in Latin. So was the grave an elaborate hoax to raise funds for the Abbey, which at its height became the largest and wealthiest in the country after Westminster, or was it as the monks had claimed, a fortuitous find? Unfortunately it doesn't look good for the monk's credibility. The only written account of the find dating from 1190, was written down by a Welsh man called Giraldus Cambrensis. But he wrote down the accounts of witnesses as he passed through several days after the exhumation, and he did not witness the actual dig.
In 1962 the archaeologist Dr Ralegh Radford excavated the site of the alleged burial, and believes that someone had previously dug in the same position and found an early grave. He found that the stone lining was still there, and he considers it to be part of a graveyard that would have been reserved for honoured tombs. This does not mean that it was Arthur's tomb, especially because the Arthur they claim to have found (who married Guinevere and was taken to Avalon) was a fictional character created by the more imaginary literary exponents of the time.
James Hudson, an Oxford linguist considers the Latin on the cross to differ from a sixth century inscription, as much as modern English prose differs from a Shakespearean text. Ashe (1968) says that the letters on the cross were crude and not twelfth century at all, therefore if the monks carved it they did a better job than most medieval forgers. It would seem that the cross has become the pivot of the whole argument, so where is it? The cross is lost; the last known possessor of the cross is said to be a Mr Hughes, who lived in nearby Wells in the eighteenth century. We only know what the cross is supposed to look like now because it was drawn by William Camden in 1607.
The original grave is not marked for the tourist to see. What is marked is the position where a large black marble tomb in which they encased his bones, in front of the high altar. This in itself shows the popularity of the Arthurian legend, what other fictional character could end up in such an esteemed position.
Strangely enough, while excavating the grounds after the 1184 fire, the monks found a whole host of medieval celebrities, these included St Patrick, St Gildas and strangest of all Archbishop Dunstan, who had spent the last two hundred years entombed at Canterbury. It would seem that the monks weren't entirely hedging their bets on Arthur to ensure that the pilgrims would come. But once Glastonbury was supposed to be Avalon, the monks had to keep people believing, this even if it meant re-writing their history.
In 1130AD, Malmesbury had written De Antiquitate Glastontensis Ecclesiae (On the Antiquities of the church of Glastonbury) and didn't mention any connection between Arthur and Glastonbury at all. By 1247 the monks had rewritten the book, by then the works of Robert De Boran and an English priest called Laymon were in circulation. They wrote of the Holy Grail, and how Joseph of Arimethea brought the cup of Christ to the vale of Avalon. By then the tradition of Arthur being a Christian monarch who dispatched his knights on a quest to find the Holy Grail to heal the land, was well established. In the monks revised edition of De Antiquitate Glastontensis Ecclesiae it is claimed that the first church in Glastonbury was actually established by a foreign merchant called Joseph of Arimethea, which is still regarded by many as fact. Needless to say it completely disagrees with the Malmesbury original. This maintained the façade that Glastonbury was Avalon, Arthur's resting place, and the home of the Holy Grail. Pretty soon it became accepted as being so, and has remained that way ever since.
There are a few more loose ends, but these are ironed out by the most famous of Arthurian writers, Sir Thomas Malory, who wrote The Morte De Arthur from his prison cell in 1485. The Morte De Arthur (The Death of Arthur) became the standard representation of the romantic cycle in English. He drew together all the most prominent Arthur tales, many taken from the original French romances, and created the Arthur we know today. His work includes Arthur's dubious birth, and the drawing of Excalibur from the stone to prove his heir apparent. Sir Mallory portrays Arthur in shinning armour, ruling from a fabulous court. He didn't add to the tales content apart from filling in a few gaps, and placing Arthur firmly in the Plantagenet period.
So how did Malory get past the problem that Glastonbury, by then the accepted Avalon claimed to be the last resting place of Arthur, whilst equally popular tales beheld Arthur as an immortal saviour waiting to return and lead his down trodden country men? Simply he mentions Avalon and Glastonbury separately. He takes Monmouth's account of Arthur being carried away on a boat to Avalon so that his wounds can be tended, but then has Sir Bedevere encountering a hermit around a freshly dug grave in Glastonbury. The hermit claims that some ladies brought a corpse to him to bury at midnight, which he duly carried out. However, no mention of it being Arthur, or of Glastonbury's validity as Avalon is made. Malory sat on the proverbial fence, and satisfied his whole audience. He did not support Glastonbury's claim, nor did he deny it.
Arthur, the very nature of who he is, and what he represents sells Glastonbury to an international audience, through pamphlets, promotional videos and educational films. Glastonbury and Somerset have so much more than Arthur to offer, such as the beautiful Somerset levels, Cheddar Gorge, Wookie Hole, Cadbury Castle, and a wealth of local history available, going as far back as when Glastonbury was considered an island, and the levels were flooded marsh.
But as far as Arthur is concerned, Glastonbury and its sites are in a unique and enviable position, for they are one of two places always associated with him, the other being Tintagel. There is no Arthurian interpretation centre in Glastonbury, nor any other tourist attraction specifically denoting Arthur. The Tor, Chalice Well, and the Abbey don't rely on Arthur to sell them, he is merely mentioned as a bonus. Although it is plain that Arthur is popular in Glastonbury, with every other side road being named after a character from the romances as well as local housing estates and businesses. The legend of Arthur will ebb and wane in popularity, but Glastonbury will always be his mythical domain, used as a selling point for the numerous tourist that pass through the town.
Ashe, G. A Guide to Arthurian Britain, Aquarian Press, 1980.
Ashe, G. The Quest for Arthur's Britain, Paladin, 1968.
Greed, J.A. Glastonbury Tales, Presto Print, 1978.
Philips, G. and Keatman, M. King Arthur the True Story, Century, 1992.
Roberts, A. Glastonbury, Ancient Avalon, New Jerusalem, Rider, 1992.
Glastonbury - Somerset, England
Crouched in the lee of three hills, most notably the Tor, the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey are all that remain of what was once the greatest monastic foundation and church in all of Britain, second only in wealth and size to Westminster. At the height of the Middle Ages it was a shrine second to none in Europe, considered by some to be as important as Rome itself.
Here, according to legend, came Joseph of
Here, according to legend, once lay the body of King Arthur.
Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus who gave up his tomb to house the body of his nephew. Later, Joseph was given the Holy Grail, the most mystical vessel which had been used to celebrate the Last Supper and the first Eucharist, and which caught some of the blood of the crucified Christ as he hung upon the cross. After the Resurrection, Joseph fled to Britain with the cup and founded the first Christian church on the ancient island of Ynys Witrin, sometimes known as the Glass Isle, or Avalon, better known today as Glastonbury.
Arthur's body was brought here to be buried. Today, a plaque marks the spot where, in 1191, his tomb was apparently uncovered by builders working on the restoration of the abbey after it had been almost destroyed by fire in 1184. Whether this was truly Arthur's grave or a complicated forgery perpetrated by the monks to raise funds to rebuild their half-burned church has been contested ever since. A lead cross, last seen by William Camden in the eighteen century, used to be displayed in the abbey. It read:
Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.
There are those who believe it a forgery and those who think it was the genuine gravestone of Britain's greatest king.
Arthur was a semi-legendary, semi-historic king or leader of the Britons during the 500s CE. At this time, Britain was in its post-Roman phase – the Romans had left Britain around 410, having controlled the country for over 300 years, and having changed it considerably. Britain was quite a prosperous country at the time, owing to its silver, tin and lead mining and its crafts and textiles industries. It was under threat from incursions by Saxons in the southeast, Irish in Wales and Scots in the north. It was largely a unified country (England, Scotland and Wales, as separate nations, came later, when the Saxons created England as a culturally separate entity). It was divided into minor kingdoms, whose kings were overseen by a high king. Whether Arthur was a king or a charismatic military leader is unclear, though he certainly went down in tradition as a regal character.
Arthur's predecessor, Vortigern, was a manipulator, hiring some Saxons to protect him against other British kings, who were challenging his right to rule – kings and high kings were by tradition selected, and could equally be deposed. Vortigern disputed this, preferring the principle of inheritance (primogeniture). Hence that he hired Saxon mercenaries. But he failed to pay them, so they then plotted to overthrow him and take Britain for themselves. Vortigern duly disappeared and Arthur came forward, possessing the charisma and influence to unite the British and stave off the Saxons.
Later mythology gave him Christian status, though it is most likely that Britain at the time was multi-cultural and transitional, and Christianity (of the Celtic-Druidic kind) was one faith of several. Catholic Christianity was not formally adopted in England until around 600, adopted by the Saxons to give them legitimacy and Roman support.
Arthur and the Britons fought many battles against the Saxons, starting with a victory at Mount Badon (the location of which is unknown, but possibly Solsbury Hill at Bath or Badbury Rings near Swindon) and ending with defeat and fatal injury at Camlann, 20 years later.
Arthur was first obliquely mentioned in Aneirin's poem Y Gododdin of the late 500s. Gildas, the historian, omits to mention Arthur – though this might have been a form of political censorship, since Gildas had a Saxon-Catholic vested interest in promoting other traditions. Nennius listed twelve Arthurian victories. He referred to Arthur as a 'leader of battles' (dux bellorum) or a warlord rather than a king. In the Annales Cambriae, compiled around 955 and based on earlier chronicles, the date of the battle of Badon was given as 516/518, and that of Camlann as 537/539.
By the time Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh Norman, wrote his Historia Regnum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) in the 1100s, on which all later Arthurian traditions are based, the character of Arthur developed out of all proportion to the historical personage. Arthur was finally immortalised as a legend in Mallory's Morte d'Arthur (1485).
Geoffrey gave the date of Arthur's death as 542, ten years later than that of the Annales Cambriae. Arthur seems to have become military leader of the Britons in the 490s or early 500s. Many scholars claim him for Cornwall, and others say that his legendary Camelot was at Cadbury Castle, some 15 miles SE of Glastonbury. Caerleon in South Wales has also been suggested.
Arthur could also have come from Elmet (Yorkshire) or Scotland, and the scenes of his exploits are widely spread around Britain, from Scotland to the Southwest of England. Many of his early battles might have been in Lincolnshire. After Badon, the Saxons were held off for 21 years, and Britain lived in peace. At Camlann, however, Arthur was slain, reputedly by Mordred or Medraut, his illegitimate son. His invincibility was broken by intrigue and betrayal.
It is likely that the historical Arthur's life has been significantly embellished with earlier Celtic myths, possibly from as long as 1,000 years before – including the tradition of the Round Table and the Grail Quest. This embellishment process continues today in novels – the popular book The Mists of Avalon, though strongly advocating an ancient women's perspective and making a valid point, is significantly inaccurate historically, though fictionally interesting.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's efforts in Norman times were claimed by him to be historically accurate, though this has been fiercely disputed. However, ideology is tied into this argument, and Geoffrey's work might have been more accurate than many would believe. Geoffrey launched Arthur into European literature, where his legend was further embellished – especially the legends of the Holy Grail.
Arthur does seem to be an historic character, though his legend is greatly romanticised. Most people's imagery of him derive from Geoffrey and Chretien de Troyes in the 1100s, over 500 years after Arthur's time. Tradition has it that Arthur came to the Isle of the Dead, Avalon, to seek healing from the ancient British priestesses, but he died, to lie in wait for a time when he would return to lead the British once again. Other Glastonbury traditions hold that Arthur received the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake at Meare Pool, a few miles northwest of Glastonbury, and that she reclaimed it at Pomparles Bridge, the river gap between Wearyall Hill and Street. Arthur was supposed to have had a mystical experience at the Chapel Perilous at Beckery.
Arthur and Guinevere (Gwenhwyfar) were reputedly buried at Glastonbury, where the site of their grave is still to be seen in the Abbey ruins – though their bodies were disinterred before the abbey's dissolution and moved to an unknown location – some say Hamdon Hill in south Somerset. As for the Grail, visiting Americans frequently ask where it is when they come to Glastonbury, and someone once even offered to buy it. However, this is one of those things money cannot buy. It is nowhere to be found. The Grail is a mystery tradition, a spiritual path, and discussions over its status as an object or relic are a diversion from the main issue.
The Arthurian legends are clearly a mixture of myth and historic fact. Mythically, they speak of the divergence between magical wisdom and power (Merlin) and worldly power (Arthur), of struggles with concepts of rightness and the true meaning of nobility, of transitional times between ancient Druidic and Goddess cultures and the rise of Christianity, of British nationalism meeting the threat of foreign invasion, and of details of glory, meaning and power pertinent to the time. Historically, they speak of the last struggles of the British to hold their land before the Angles and Saxons invaded, to build the English nation, which was in time to dominate the 'Celtic Fringe'.
For Glastonbury they speak of a time which is relevant today where the ancient and the Christian worlds collided. This didn't have to be a collision: the Christian transmission had grafted itself into ancient British traditions quite successfully before the time of Augustine, who brought Roman Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons around 600. Roman Christianity saw 'paganism' as an old culture to be stamped out. The Arthurian period thus refers to a transitional time when the old faiths were about to go under. Thus the legends of the Once and Future King suggest a harking back, and perhaps a deep cultural regret over the missing of an opportunity, of the Matter and Soul of Britain and its fate and future, back in the 500s.
from The Traveller's Guide to Arthurian Britain, published by Gothic Image
Beside the main roads entering this little town, signboards welcome the visitor to "the ancient Avalon". Glastonbury's identity with that fabled island, the Avalon of legend, is one of several hard questions. Others arise out of its claims to the Holy Grail and the grave of Arthur. But certainly it is unlike anywhere else. It nestles in a strange cluster of hills, all differently shaped. The highest, Glastonbury Tor, is a wildly distorted cone with a tower on its summit. Wirral or Wearyall Hill is a ridge stretching out towards the Bristol Channel. Chalice Hill is a smooth natural dome. Windmill Hill, more outspread, masks the others as you approach from Wells.
Around is flat country. At the beginning of the Christian era, much of it was submerged or swampy. Glastonbury's hill-cluster was not far from being an island. In the middle distance were Celtic lake-villages at Godney and Meare, on ground artificially banked up. These were centres of the 'La Tène' culture, and objects from them are on view in the town museum, which is housed in a medieval building called the Tribunal. They witness to a high degree of craftsmanship and sophistication. In Roman times, to judge from traces of a wharf by Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury was a port. The water was still there in Arthur's day – very probably more of it, and closer in. The reclamation and draining of the levels came later, and even in fairly recent years, floods have been known to surge over the whole green expanse between town and sea.
People of Celtic stock formerly spoke of Glastonbury as Ynys-witrin, the Glass Island. Whether this was its name before the Saxons gave it its present one, or whether it was a mis-rendering of the Saxon name which sounded as if it had 'glass' in it, is another hard question. Glass would have evoked Celtic fairy-lore and otherworld mythology, Avalonian or not (as at Bardsey). But whatever else was happening here before the Saxons' arrival, the 'island' or near-island was the home of a community of British monks living in wattle cells.
Their monastery had a high reputation. Many saints of the Celtic Church are said to have come to it, and a Welsh triad makes it one of the handful with the distinction of a perpetual choir (see Amesbury). It was far enough west to escape the horrors of the early waves of Saxon invasion. Checked by the counter-attacks of Ambrosius and Arthur, the conquerors paused a long way short of Glastonbury and did not reach it till 658. By then they had become Christians themselves. The kings of Wessex took charge of the monastery, endowed and enlarged it, with no break in continuity. It became a temple of reconciliation between the races, where they worked together instead of killing each other. Here in a sense the United Kingdom was born. The monastery grew into a vast Benedictine abbey, a national shrine, so rich in its history, traditions, and multitude of great names that Glastonbury was spoken of as a second Rome.
Something of the abbey is still there, a huge, cryptic, haunting memento of an amazing past. The entrance is through an arch beside the Town Hall and up an approach path. It can also be reached directly from the adjoining car park. A bookshop by the entrance offers illustrated guides, books and souvenirs.
Glastonbury Abbey at its height was the largest and wealthiest in the kingdom after Westminster. As a popular saying put it, "If the abbot of Glastonbury could marry the abbess of Shaftesbury they would have more land than the king of England." In 1539 the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII with exceptional ruthlessness, and its last abbot, Richard Whiting, was hanged. A few years after wards it came into private hands. Its successive owners tore most of it down to sell as material for walls and roads. In 1908 the Church of England acquired the site and took steps to preserve what little was left. The scanty ruins standing today are fragments of buildings dating from the late twelfth century onward, replacing much older ones destroyed by a fire in 1184.
The Arthurian and related stories centre on the western end of the ruins. Here is the shell of the Lady Chapel, with a crypt below. The chapel was built on the site of the 'Old Church', a deeply revered structure which the fire of 1184 wiped out. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was a plain building, basically of wattle-work, though reinforced with timber and lead. According to a legend which story-tellers and poets have elaborated over the past seven or eight centuries, its builder was Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who obtained the body of Christ after the crucifixion and had it buried in his own tomb. Joseph and several companions came to Britain bringing the Holy Grail, and made Glastonbury their home.
This famous and beloved story grew round the simple fact of the Old Church. At the earliest times we can document, it had already been standing there for many years, and no one really knew who had built it. In the tenth century, some said it had been miraculously planted by God himself and dedicated to his earthly Mother. In the early twelfth century its foundation was ascribed, by some, to disciples of Christ. But the leader of those disciples was not named as Joseph, the Grail-bringer, in any known writing till 100 years or so later again. It remains a puzzle why he should have begun to figure in chronicle and romance when he did. There may have been a far older tradition of his coming, preserved orally in Wales, and rediscovered with other Celtic matter in the Arthurian upsurge of the twelfth century. Nothing can be proved. What is very likely indeed, however, is that behind the legend – behind the mystery of the Old Church itself – is a solid and remarkable fact: that Glastonbury truly was the first British Christian community, or at any rate the first that survived, with an origin possibly in Roman times and almost certainly not long after, whoever the founder may have been.
Once Joseph was established in that role, the Abbey grew to value him more and more. Towards the end of its existence the crypt under the Lady Chapel was a separate chapel for him. Here the pilgrims came with offerings. It has been re-paved and is now in use again as a place of worship, weather permitting, since it is open to the sky.
A late growth is the legend of the Holy Thorn, said to have sprung from Joseph's staff when he planted it in the ground after disembarking from a boat at Wearyall Hill. The original Glastonbury Thorn grew on that hill; a stone marks the spot where the tree is popularly supposed to have stood. Today, descendants of it are flourishing in the Abbey and in front of St John's Church in the High Street, and on Wearyall Hill beside the stone. The Thorn's peculiarity is that it blossoms at Christmas or thereabouts. A sprig of the white blossom is cut off and sent to the reigning sovereign. It is not a native English tree, and the closest parallels to it are found in Syria – which, to be fair, does adjoin the Holy Land where Joseph came from! The truth may be that the first specimen was brought back by a pilgrim in the Middle Ages.
Another late growth is the belief that Joseph was Jesus's uncle or great-uncle, and that he brought the boy with him on an earlier visit to Glastonbury. It is not known when or how this story originated, but it can hardly have been current at Glastonbury in the Middle Ages, since the Abbey's chroniclers would certainly have made much of it, and they never mention it.
About 50 feet from the south door of the Lady Chapel is the site of Arthur's grave. This can be located roughly by standing on the far side of a path that runs parallel to the chapel wall. It was found – so the report goes – because when Henry II was in Wales, a bard divulged a long-kept secret. Arthur was buried at Glastonbury in the monks' graveyard between two pillars, probably the shafts of old crosses. Henry passed this on to the abbot. Nothing was done at the time, but in 1190 or 1191, during reconstruction after the fire, the monks decided to dig. Seven feet below ground level they unearthed a stone slab and a leaden cross, with the inscription
HIC IACET SEPULTUS INCLITUS REX ARTURIUS
IN INSULA AVALONIA
– Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon. Considerably farther down was a coffin hollowed out of a log like a dugout canoe. Inside were the bones of a tall man, with damage to the skull suggesting death by a blow on the head. Some smaller bones, and a scrap of yellow hair which crumbled when touched, were explained as Guinevere's.
We have an account of this exhumation by Giraldus Cambrensis, an observant Welshman who was there soon afterwards and discussed it with witnesses. Nevertheless, until a few years ago, historians were apt to argue that the monks invented the whole business for publicity because they needed money to rebuild after the fire. But then critics began to point out that this was unlikely. The description suggests an actual ancient burial, and medieval monks lacked the knowledge to get it right. In 1962 Dr Ralegh Radford excavated the site and showed that they had told the truth, at least to the extent that they did dig where they said, and did find an early grave. Its stone lining was still there, and it was in a part of the graveyard which would have been regarded as a place of honour.
So the question narrows down to this: Was it Arthur? (And, of course, Guinevere.) Most historians would still insist that it was not, that the claim was only a fund-raising stunt, though in fact no evidence exists that it was ever exploited for that purpose. The answer must depend at least partly on whether or not the inscribed cross was a fake. It has been lost, but perhaps not for ever, since it can be traced to a Mr Hughes in Wells in the eighteenth century. Meanwhile we have a drawing of one side of it, published by William Camden in 1607. This is the "Here lies Arthur" side. The other may have had writing about Guinevere. Again there are riddles. The style of lettering on the cross is crude, and curious. If the monks forged it they did a more interesting job than most medieval forgers. But scholarly opinion differs as to the date which the style does indicate. Guesses range from the twelfth century back to the sixth, the latter view implying that the cross could have been authentic and the grave genuine.
It is sometimes urged that the find was too sudden and opportune to be credible. If Arthur's grave had been there all along, the community would have known, and said so before. However, that is far from certain. Once again we must remember that because of the Anglo-Saxon conquest, many traditions handed down on the Celtic fringe were quite unknown in England till the rush of rediscovery in the twelfth century. With Arthur's grave, the story of the bard and Henry II seems to imply just such a rediscovery, rather than an invention out of nothing. And in view of the grave's prestige value, it is worth noting that Glastonbury's claim was never seriously contested. Once the secret was out, apparently, even Welshmen were aware of some reason why they could not challenge it.
Having found the bones, the monks enshrined them in their church. When this was enlarged, they made a black marble tomb in front of the high altar, and there the remains of Arthur and Guinevere were reinterred in 1278 during a state visit by Edward I. The place is marked today by a notice-board, whereas the original grave is not, a fact which can confuse visitors.
Coupled with the belief that Glastonbury was Arthur's last resting-place is a belief about the casting-away of Excalibur. Bedivere threw the sword into the mere at Pomparles Bridge – pont périlleux, the dangerous bridge – which spans the River Brue near the far end of Wearyall Hill on the way to Street, though the present structure, of course, is only a modern successor of the one intended. That area was then probably under water, and a mere would have been available. However, Pomparles has rivals (see Bosherston, Dozmary Pool, Llyn Llydaw, Llyn Ogwen, Loe Pool). Apart from this romantic motif, Arthur's death in or near Glastonbury would have a serious bearing on the problem of Camlann where he fought his last battle.
Glastonbury's other Arthurian focus is the Tor, which is the highest hill in the cluster, and National Trust property. It is reached from the town by heading out as for Shepton Mallet on the A361. Still within the built-up area, a minor road called Well House Lane turns off to the left. This leads to both the public paths up the Tor. One of them starts a few yards from the intersection, the other on higher ground some distance along, near where the lane swings right to circle the hill.
The Tor is a strange formation, with its whaleback shape and its ruined tower on top. It can be seen a long way off – the distant view from the Mendips, as you approach from Bristol or Bath, is especially striking – but in the centre of Glastonbury itself it vanishes, because the lower and rounder Chalice Hill is in the way. Ridges or terraces along the sides give an odd stepped effect. They are best seen in profile from the higher part of Well House Lane. Whatever the reason for them, the Tor itself is not (as many suppose) artificial. Of the two ways up it, the one that begins near the Shepton Mallet road is a long but mostly gradual climb; the other, at the far end, is shorter and steeper.
At the summit by the tower is a small plateau. It is 518 feet above sea-level. The impressive view includes the Mendips, and Brent Knoll near the Bristol Channel. In clear weather it extends to Wales. On the other side of the Tor Cadbury Castle is visible, whence in part the 'beacon' theory, for which see Brent Knoll. But it is hard to pick out because it blends with a line of hills behind it.
The Tor is the probable locale of the oldest story connecting Arthur with Glastonbury, one that was current long before any claims were made about his grave. It is told by Caradoc, a monk of Llancarfan in his Life of Gildas. Melwas, king of the Summer Land (Somerset), carried off Guinevere and kept her at Glastonbury. Arthur arrived to rescue her with Cornish and Devonian levies, though his operations were hampered by the watery country round about. Before the fighting could grow too serious, Gildas and the abbot arranged a treaty. Arthur and Melwas made up their quarrel in the church of St Mary – that is, the Old Church – and Guinevere was restored.
This is the first known version of a tale which appears in several medieval romances, changing as it goes along. Melwas becomes 'Meleagant' and later 'Meliagaunt' or 'Mellyagraunce', a sinister knight. His castle is moved to Lambeth and the rescuer becomes Lancelot. But the Glastonbury tale is the original, and the Tor would have been an obvious place for a local chief to make a strongpoint. In 1964-65 Philip Rahtz excavated the summit area and found, on the south and east sides, traces of buildings of more or less Arthurian date. The complex may have been part of Melwas's establishment. However, it may also have been monastic. The question is not settled.
The Tor's stepped appearance, though usually ascribed to agricultural work, has prompted theories about its use in pre-Christian ritual. Certainly it once had an otherworldly aura and was held to be an abode of strange beings – as indeed it still is, by some. The Life of the sixth-century St Collen preserves a tradition of this type. He is said to have spent some time as a hermit on the Tor's lower slope. One day Gwyn ap Nudd, king of the fairy-folk and lord of the Otherworld realm of Annwn, sent a messenger inviting Collen to visit him at the top of the hill. The saint demurred, but the invitation was repeated and at last he went. Taking some holy water, he climbed up and passed through a secret entrance into a palace. Gwyn, seated on a golden chair, offered him food, but he knew that this was a trap. After a brief conversation he tossed his holy water around him. The palace vanished and Collen found himself alone on the Tor.
Gwyn is a figure from Celtic paganism. His father Nudd is the British god Nodons, who had a temple at Lydney in Gloucestershire. Gwyn and his hidden realm of Annwn both appear in early Welsh legends of Arthur, who, in spectral form, rides with him on the Wild Hunt through the sky.
It was doubtless because the monks felt the Tor to be uncanny that they built a small church on top, and dedicated it to St Michael the Archangel, conqueror of the powers of hell. The powers of hell were perhaps incompletely conquered, because it fell down in an earthquake. The present tower is the last fragment of another church of St Michael, built to replace it. Local legend speaks of a hidden chamber under the tower. People who find their way into it go mad. The notion may be a last echo of ancient Celtic belief about the entrance to Annwn.
If the terraces around the Tor's sides were made for any ritual purpose, they must date from an earlier period than St Collen. They are much worn and weathered. However, attempts have been made to reconstruct a pattern in the shape of a spiral path winding in and out and in again, circling the hill several times, and ending near the top. The strength of the argument is that the same septenary maze-spiral occurs in other places – though, admittedly, not carved in hillsides – and was clearly strong magic thousands of years ago.
Hence, there is a case for the spiral maze theory which archaeologists are willing to entertain. More speculative is the zodiac theory. This asserts that the landscape overlooked by the Tor is covered with immense figures which represent zodiacal signs. They are marked out by streams, hills, old trackways, and other features, and form a circle ten miles across. Even believers are divided about them, disagreeing as to how they were made and what exactly the outlines are. They are only visible (if at all) from the air and it is useless to climb the Tor in the hope of seeing them. The Tor itself is said to be part of Aquarius. The Sagittarius figure is a mounted warrior, claimed as a divine or symbolic 'Arthur' of great antiquity, whose mythology shaped the legends about the human one.
At the Tor's foot on the side towards Chalice Hill is a garden containing Chalice Well. This is owned and looked after by the Chalice Well Trust, a religious body, which sponsored Rahtz's excavations. The intending visitor should check in advance whether the garden will be open. Chalice Well itself, up a long slope, is enclosed by medieval stonework. The spring that feeds it, nine feet down, flows copiously even in drought. Owing to an iron impregnation the water has a slight 'spa' quality, and gives a reddish-orange tinge to the stone of the channels which carry it away.
Chalice Well used to be called 'Chalk' Well, or, because of its tinted water, the Blood Spring. The significantly altered name, and fancies about the 'blood' being the blood of Christ in the Grail somewhere underground, are fairly recent. In the days of Arthur, however, when the spring was probably at ground level without superstructure, it does seem to be mentioned and thus described in one of the Grail romances, Perlesvaus, known in English translation as The High History of the Holy Grail. Clues here and elsewhere hint that it may have supplied water for a small early Christian community, in and around the little valley between Chalice Hill and the Tor, distinct from the one on the Abbey site. This perhaps is the retreat between hills – near Glastonbury, but not, at that time, in it – to which Lancelot and other survivors retire at the end of Malory's story.
The neighbourhood has one further Arthurian spot, Beckery on the west of the town near a defunct factory. In a chapel here, Arthur is said to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, which was the reason for his putting her image on his shield (see Guinnion). Excavation has shown that an early chapel existed, but its date is unknown. Nothing can be seen today.
When all these beliefs are taken together, they show how the name 'Avalon' could have settled on Glastonbury as an expression of several of them at once. First came its eerie non-Christian aspects as an enchanted Glass Island and as a point of contact with Annwn. One Celtic Otherworld could easily be equated with another; Annwn and Avalon did tend to merge or overlap; and at some stage, no one knows when, the idea took hold that Glastonbury might be the true Avalon.
Then, in the twelfth century, the monks learned the Welsh tradition of Arthur's burial and supposedly confirmed it by digging him up. His last earthly destination was agreed to have been Avalon – Geoffrey of Monmouth said it. That clinched the identification. If the inscribed leaden cross was genuine it proved it anyway, because it said "here in the Isle of Avalon". But even if it was faked, it was faked with the identification in mind. Glastonbury was now Avalon indeed, and the low-lying area round about became the Vale, or Vales, of Avalon.
Soon afterwards Robert de Boron wrote the first romance about the bringing of the Grail to Britain. It had been brought, he declared, by the first Christians to come there, who had been disciples of Christ himself. Glastonbury Abbey already claimed a foundation as early as that, and by such disciples. Robert took the obvious step of sending his early Christians to the 'Vales of Avalon'. Thereby Glastonbury-as-Avalon was explicitly built into the Christian legend as well as the Arthurian. Not that the equation was accepted by all, then or afterwards, but it was there to accept if one so chose. It appears again in the Abbey's chronicles and in the Grail romance Perlesvaus, which is based, so the author truly or falsely assures us, on a document "in a holy house of religion in the Isle of Avalon, where King Arthur and Queen Guinevere lie".
Links to Arthurian websites
The Arthurian A-Z Knowledge Bank
The Legend of King Arthur
Mystical Places – Arthurian
The Historicity and Historicisation of Arthur
Arthur: the Matter of Britain
King Arthur and the Matter of Britain
Britannia: the Arthurian Century
The Camelot Project
Mattman's Arthurian Resources
King Arthur, the stuff of future memory
Early British Kingdoms Web Site
Cadbury Castle: Arthur's Camelot?
Joseph of Arimathea: Ancestor of Kings?
The Quest for the Holy Grail Kenneth Knight
Lundy – Isle of Avalon
Britannia: Sources of British History
Isle of Avalon NEXT BACK PRINT
• The monks at Glastonbury found out about King Arthur's body at the very time that they needed lots of money from pilgrims. This is too much of a coincidence to be believable.
• There are no eye-witness accounts to show what was found during the digging. Accounts from soon after contradict one another. Most say Arthur and Guinevere were found. One says their enemy, Mordred, was there too.
• The style of writing on the lead cross supposedly found in the grave does not date from King Arthur's time. The strange 'A's look very like 12th century writing over the door to Stoke-sub-Hamdon Church, just 18 miles to the south.
• All the accounts of the writing on the cross give different wording. One says Guinevere, Arthur's 'second wife' was there too. This does not appear on the drawing of it. Every story says Arthur only had one wife.
• No-one ever suggested Glastonbury might be the Isle of Avalon until after the cross was found. No-one connected King Arthur with Glastonbury before this either.
• Some historians think the monks pretended to find King Arthur's body to please the King. The Welsh thought Arthur was magic and was not dead but only sleeping. He would return one day to throw the English out of Wales. The discovery showed he was really dead. FOR
• Bodies of saints brought in the most money from pilgrims. The monks did not make up stories about finding the body of their supposed founder, St. Joseph of Arimathea. He would have been much more popular than King Arthur.
• Archaeologists have proved that the monks did dig a hole in the cemetery between two important stone-lined graves. They were probably marked by big stone crosses, the remains of which were the 'pyramids' described by the monks.
• The lead cross has disappeared. The style of writing is only known from a drawing. This may not be correct; or it may date from the 10th century. The cross could have been put in the grave then.
• Accounts of the finding were written down from memory and some people might easily have got it wrong, especially the writing on the cross. There is one Welsh record that says Arthur had three wives, all called Guinevere.
• In the Dark Ages, Glastonbury was like an island sticking up out of the marshes. It was also thought to be the most important monastery in Britain. Traditionally King Arthur is said to have been a member of the local Dumnonian Royal family. What better place to be buried?
Do you think King Arthur was buried at Glastonbury Abbey?
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