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King Arthur's tomb

Glastonbury is a town in Somerset. It is set in a cluster of hills and Glastonbury was at one time almost an island as the surrounding Somerset Levels were wetlands. In Celtic times Glastonbury was a centre of overseas trade.
Glastonbury Tor, the highest of these hills had a place in myth and ritual as the door to Annwfa, the Otherworld. And this has probably led Glastonbury to being identified in Arthurian legend as The Isle of Avalon.
One can consider two King Arthur locations here - Glastonbury Abbey (a supposed location of Arthur's grave) and Glastonbury Tor (the inspiration for the Island of Avalon).
Robert de Boron and Perlesvaus was the first to associate Glastonbury (under the name of Avalon) with the Grail story. Joseph of Arimathea was said to have brought the Grail to the Abbey. Arthur was first connected with the Grail in 1130 AD by Caradac of Llancarfan. In his work includes an early version of the abduction of Guinevere by Melwas to Glastonbury.
Glastonbury is also the reputed site of Arthur's grave which was found around 1190. It is said a Welsh or Breton bard gave the location to Henry II, telling him that Arthur was buried in the old graveyard at Glastonbury between two pyramids. At seven feet down, they found a stone slab with an inset lead cross; at 16 feet down they found a hollowed out log that contained the skeletal remains of an exceptionally large man and a delicate woman. The cross with the words ""Here lies buried the famous King Arthur with Guinevere, his second wife, in the isle of Avalon." has disappeared over time, though modern re-excavation found that there was an actual early burial here. Current belief is that the "Glastonbury grave" was a wheeze to increase revenues for Glastonbury abbey. The Abbey had suffered a devastating fire in 1184 and was in desperate need of money to rebuild.
After the grave was discovered in 1190, it was moved by order of King Edward I to the interior of Glastonbury Abbey in 1278. A black marble tomb was built within the nave of Glastonbury cathedral near the high altar. After the dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey, the tomb was destroyed, and a portion of a tomb from the right time period is preserved today in the abbey visitor's center. Today there is a marker that identifies the place as the gravesite in the midst of the abbey ruins.
The main source of evidence for such a burial is from Gerald of Wales in 1223, and John Lelend in the 16th century
However, Arthur’s body, which the fables allege was like a fantastic thing at the end, and as it were moved by the
spirit to far away places, and not subject to death, in our own days was discovered at Glastonbury between two
stone pyramids erected in the holy cemetery, hidden deep in the ground by a hollow oak and marked with wonderful
The Cross found at Glastonbury signs and marvels, and it was moved into the church with honor and committed properly to a
marble tomb. Whence a leaden cross with a stone underneath, not above as it usually is in our day, but rather lower nailed on the side, (which I have seen, and in fact I have traced these sculpted letters - not projecting and protruding, but carved into the stone) contains the words: "Here lies buried the famous King Arthur with Guinevere, his second wife, in the isle of Avalon.
-Gerald of Wales, c. 1223
John Leland describes this cross from his own inspection of it in The Assertion of King Arthure:
It was made of a leaden plate, one foote long more or lesse, which I have beholden with most curious eyes, and handled with feareful joyntes in each part, being moved both with the Antiquitie and worthinesse of the thing. It conteyneth upon it these wordes in those not so greate Romane letters, but indifferent cunningly graven, viz. HIC IACIT SEPVLTVS INCLITVS REX ARTHVRIVS, IN INSVLA AVALONIA.
In 1607, William Camden published a drawing of the original lead cross of Glastonbury, which he claimed to have seen while in the possession of Mr. Hughes, a cleric at Wells Cathedral. He also stated that the other side of the cross named Guinevere, but the that side was never drawn. His drawing of the Glastonbury Cross has never been substantiated.
King Arthur’s Tomb, Glastonbury Abbey. Glastonbury Abbey is seeking to commission a high quality work in stone to mark the renowned site of the tomb of King Arthur within the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Aims and Objectives of the Commission. Glastonbury Abbey is visited by nearly 100,000 visitors a year from all over the world. The Abbey is constantly improving and developing the site to ensure its long term preservation; to enhance the experience for current visitors and to find new and creative ways of attracting new visitors. Many visitors come to see the site of the tomb of King Arthur, whose legendary association with the Abbey stretches far back into its history. Their experience of the tomb site is currently very disappointing as it is marked by a concrete kerb, some modern paving stones and an old cast iron information post. The purpose of the commission is to greatly enhance the site with a high quality sculpture or work in stone that will provide a lasting focus of interest for existing and potential visitors to Glastonbury Abbey. Who is commissioning the work? The trustees of Glastonbury Abbey will be commissioning the selected work subject to Scheduled Monuments Consent and the approval of the Diocese of Bath and Wells. Partners involved in the project. Depending upon the resources needed for the commission the Trustees will need to seek additional funding from external partners. English Heritage and The Diocese of Bath and Wells will also be stakeholders in the commission. There will also be a process of public consultation as the project is likely to be high profile on such a site as Glastonbury Abbey. The site for the commission The site of the tomb, believed to have been in front of the High Altar in the Great Church of the Abbey from the twelfth century, is currently marked by paving stones and a concrete kerb. The site is surrounded by upstanding ruins and the area within is grassed. Given its location in this sensitive situation the sculpture will need to be in keeping with its architectural surroundings and be sensitive to the Christian ethos of the site. Details of the piece The site is open to the elements and is visited by many people. A sculpture in stone is sought to mark the site of Arthur’s supposed tomb within the great church of the abbey site. At this stage the trustees are open to ideas about the form the sculpture might take and the type of stone used: it could for example be figurative, of table tomb form, an engraved slab or grave marker. We are not looking for an historic reconstruction although the evidence provided in the accompanying details might be used for inspiration. Roles and Responsibilities The project will be managed by Janet Bell, the Curator at Glastonbury Abbey. There will be a panel of representatives from the Abbey and other partners including expert advisers. This panel will make the selection of finalist artists and from them the artist to be commissioned. The panel will further develop the brief with the artist finally selected. The successful artist will be expected to attend meetings with this panel to further develop the brief and report on progress as the project develops. They will also be expected to take part in a consultation process and, if required by external funding partners, participate in interpretation of the piece with visitors and the community through exhibitions/displays and public talks (to be agreed). Process and criteria for selection The selection of the artist/sculptor will be on a competitive basis and at this stage we are seeking initial expressions of interest in the project and sufficient information to enable us to select five finalists. Key factors in selection will be the sensitivity of the artist and their work in reflecting the historic character and religious nature of the site and their ability to work with a range of interests and people. The subject of King Arthur on a religious site is potentially controversial and is likely to attract a great deal of interest and publicity. Timetable By May 29th : Potential artists send expressions of interest with further details and images of relevant work and CV and outline ideas of approach to the project. By 10th June: 5 finalists will be selected and contacted to work up a more detailed submission for consideration. By Friday 26th June: Receipt from selected artists of final proposals. Friday 26th June – 1st October: Designs and proposals from finalists will be displayed in the Images of Arthur exhibition at Glastonbury Abbey and comments invited as part of the consultation process. The project will only progress further if sufficient funding is achieved. Budget No specific budget has yet been set. For the purposes of external grant aid applications and fundraising we are looking at commissions under £100,000 including installation costs and VAT. Fee/payment offered Each of the 5 finalists selected with be paid a fee of £500 to work up their proposals for final submission and attend an interview with the selection panel. Ownership and copyright Glastonbury Abbey will retain ownership of the final work but the copyright will remain with the artist. Copyright and ownership of all the designs submitted will also remain with the artists. However, the Abbey will have publication rights of the 5 final designs selected for publicity and fundraising purposes. The details of this will need to be discussed further. Equal Opportunities Glastonbury Abbey operates an Equal Opportunities Policy. To register your interest in being considered for the selection process please send your contact details, CV, images and description of examples of relevant work and an outline of your approach to and likely costs for the project. Please send to: Janet Bell, Curator Glastonbury Abbey, The Abbey Gatehouse Magdalene Street Glastonbury Somerset BA6 9EL. Or by email to janet.bell@glastonburyabbey.com. Further details of the history of the tomb site are provided below. Further details of Glastonbury Abbey can be found on the website at: www.glastonburyabbey.com. Arthur’s Tomb, Glastonbury Abbey: Historical Background Gerald of Wales says that in 1191 the monks of Glastonbury, guided by visions and certain indications from old manuscripts in their library, searched for and found the tomb of the semi legendary, King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere. The discovery apparently took place in the cemetery to the south of the old church in an area between two ‘pyramids’ or tapering stone shafts. The site is now indicated by a cast iron marker. By the late 12th century the ‘historical’ figure of Arthur, who might have originated as a battle leader of the fifth century, had been remodelled as a hero of literary Romance. It has been suggested that the Arthurian legend developed from Celtic stories taken to France by Welsh and Cornish immigrants and then gradually transformed as they were retold in the Anglo-Norman context. The stories then returned to Britain as part of British legendary history and as entertainment. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia, written in 1136, was popular in court circles in the late century 12th and spread the Arthurian legend as history. Although Arthur and Glastonbury Abbey may have been linked in oral traditions before 1191 there are no known written connections before this date. Gerald of Wales described the discovery of Arthur’s bones at Glastonbury Abbey and it would appear he was present: ‘Now the body of King Arthur…was found in our own days at Glastonbury, deep down in the earth and encoffined in a hollow oak between two stone pyramids…In the grave was a cross of lead, placed under a stone and not above it, but fixed on the underside….I have felt the letters engraved thereon, which do not project or stand out, but are turned inwards towards the stone. They run as follows: ‘Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur, with Guinevere his second wife, in the isle of Avalon’…two parts of the tomb, to wit, the head, were allotted to the bones of a man, while the remaining third towards the foot contained the bones of a woman in a place apart; there was found a yellow tress of woman’s hair still retaining its colour and freshness; but when a certain monk snatched it and lifted it with a greedy hand, it straightway all of it fell into dust…the bones of Arthur …were so huge…that his shank bone when placed against the tallest man in the place, reached a good three inches above his knee…the eye socket was a good palm in width…there were ten wounds or more, all of which were scarred over, save one larger than the rest, which had made a great hole’ The discovery took place following the death of the Abbey’s royal patron, Henry II (died 1189). The Abbey had been devastated by fire during 1184 and needed funds to rebuild. Also in 1190 the childless King Richard 1 had made his nephew Arthur heir to the throne – if Arthur had been crowned this would probably have secured royal patronage for the monastery. The discovery was a clever piece of opportunism by the Abbey and would have attracted a great amount of public interest and income. Arthurian literary culture influenced manners and practices at the courts of Henry III and Edward I. The English kings would have found the body of Arthur and the establishment of an Arthurian cult at Glastonbury useful in subduing the Welsh. Edward 1 and Queen Eleanor visited the abbey in 1278; Edward III visited in 1331 and Edward IV and Henry VII each named sons Arthur. Following their initial discovery the bones were first moved to a chapel in the south aisle of the new church. They were later translated to a prime position in the choir of the Abbey church in a black marble mausoleum. When Edward 1 and Queen Eleanor visited the Abbey the tomb was opened ‘and there separately in two chests painted with their images and arms were found the bones of Arthur of wonderful size and the bones of Queen Guinevere of wonderful beauty’. Arthur’s left ear had apparently been cut off ‘with the marks of the blow which slew him’ visible. Edward and Eleanor are reported to have wrapped the bones in precious materials, returned them to their chests and replaced them in the black marble mausoleum, which was located in front of the high altar. It seems that the shrine of Arthur was decorated with inscriptions and imagery. There was also an epitaph which has been translated as follows: Hic jacet Arthurus flos regum, Gloria regni; quem mors, probitas commendat laude perhenni Here lies Arthur, the flower of Kingship, the kingdom’s glory, whom his morals and virtue commend with external praise. There were two lions at the head of the tomb and two at the feet. There was also a cross at the head end and at the foot an ‘image’ of Arthur, and a further inscription: Arthuri jacet hic conjux tumulata secunda Que meruit cellos virtutum prole seconda Arthur’s fortunate wife lies buried here, who merited heaven through the happy consequences of her virtues. This tomb probably survived until the Abbey’s dissolution in 1539 and would have been a great attraction to pilgrims.

Discovery of the Cross
he medieval historian, Gerald of Wales, tells us that sometime before he died in 1189, Henry II gave a message to the monks of Glastonbury Abbey regarding the location of the grave of King Arthur. He also tells us that Henry had gotten the information from an unnamed Welsh bard.

Gerald's account goes on to say that the Glastonbury monks, presumably acting on this information, had uncovered a hollowed-out log containing two bodies, while digging between two stone pyramids standing together in the abbey cemetary. The log coffin had been buried quite deep, at around 16 feet down. A stone slab cover had been found at the seven foot level, and attached to its underside was an oddly shaped cross with a latin inscription on it, naming the occupants of the coffin as the renowned King Arthur and his queen, Guinevere.

Beside Gerald's report written in "Liber de Principis instructione" c.1193, there were several other versions of the discovery of the grave and cross which appeared in various chronicles over the years. Each account was a bit different from the others and either included or omitted details which the others did not. At least five different versions of the inscription on the cross have been reported, and this inconsistency in the details of the story has led many scholars to think that a great hoax was being perpetrated by the Glastonbury monks for the purpose of generating pilgrim traffic to their abbey.

Adding to the suspicions aroused by the above inconsistencies, the case for a "monastic hoax" gains more strength when we consider that there were several obvious motives for it:
•  the monks' beloved abbey church, the most glorious in all England and possibly in all of Christendom, had been destroyed by fire in 1184, just a few short years before.
•  the abbey's greatest pilgrim attraction, the "Old Church," England's oldest Christian structure which dated back many hundreds of years, had been burned up with it.
•  the abbey's chief benefactor, the recently deceased Henry II, was no longer in a position to finance their efforts to rebuild and the new king, Richard, was more interested in using his money to go "Crusading."

A popular legend, current among the British people, claimed that King Arthur had never actually died and that he would one day return to his people when their need was great. While it is easy for modern people to discount a story like that, the twelfth century was an age of great credulity, and since no one could point to the location of Arthur's actual burial place, the legend couldn't be so easily discounted. Amazingly enough, no one had ever even claimed to know where the grave was, let alone try to identify it. A verse from the Welsh "Stanzas of the Graves" (aka The Graves of the Warriors of Britain), states:
There is a grave for March, a grave for Gwythur,
a grave for Gwgawn Red-sword;
the world's wonder, a grave for Arthur
The historian, William of Malmesbury, confirms that the whereabouts of Arthur's burial place is unknown, and that silly legends have been created as a result:
. . .tomb of Arthur is nowhere beheld, whence the ancient ditties fable that he is yet to come.
Given the immediate need for cash to rebuild their abbey, the death of their chief benefactor and a willingness to engage in questionable practices to serve what they believed was a noble end, it would take no great leap of the imagination to expect that the Glastonbury monks would come up with some other scheme to raise funds. In King Arthur, it would seem that they had a ready-made solution to their problems: a major legendary figure whose grave could attract all the pilgrims that the Old Church did, and, at the same time, enhance the abbey's reputation for sanctity and prestige as the final resting place of saints and kings.

Having said all that, it must be noted that there are a few difficulties with the "monastic hoax" theory. First of all, if we are going to credit the monks with the imagination and effrontery necessary to perpetrate a hoax of this magnitude, then we should also expect them to be able to manage the public relations campaign that would be needed after the "discovery" of Arthur's body.

Instead, we see several different accounts of the exhumation of the grave and, over the years, we get several versions of what was inscribed on the cross. The varied accounts of the inscriptions are as follows:
Ralph of Coggeshall, "Chronicon Anglicanum," c.1225

"Here lies the famous King Arthur, buried in the isle of Avalon"

Margam Abbey (Wales), "Chronicle," some date it early 1190's, others, 14th century

"Here lies the famous King Arthur, buried in the isle of Avalon"

John Leland, 1542

"Here lies the famous King Arthur, buried in the isle of Avalon"

William Camden, "Britannia," 1607

"Here lies the famous King Arthur, buried in the isle of Avalon"

Monks of St. Albans, "Chronica Majora," mid- to late-13th Century

"Here lies the renowned King Arthur, buried in the isle of Avalon"

Adam of Domerham, "Historia de rebus Glastoniensibus," 1291

"Here lies interred in the isle of Avalon, the renowned King Arthur"

Gerald of Wales, "Liber de Principis instructione," c.1193

"Here lies buried the famous King Arthur with Guinevere his second wife in the isle of Avalon"

Gerald of Wales, "Speculum Ecclesiae," c.1216

"Here lies buried the famous King Arthur in the isle of Avalon with his second wife Guinevere"
Shouldn't we expect that if the monks had been willing to risk this deception in the first place, that they would have made sure that everyone was telling the same story? Another troublesome thing is that while the fortuitous timing of the "discovery" of Arthur's grave might seem highly suspicious to us, the monks didn't follow up by doing what we might expect them to have done if they were really trying to pull off a hoax. We would expect them to have launched a major publicity campaign, announcing the discovery to the world. We would expect to find evidence that a major influx of pilgrims had been planned for. We would expect to find documentary and literary evidence that Glastonbury had, in fact, become a more important place of pilgrimage than it had already been.

Surprisingly, we see none of that. Other than a few mentions in monastic chronicles through the years, there is no record of any "advertising blitz." There were no new structures built to enshrine the bodies or to house or otherwise accommodate the pilgrims. And there was nothing written to suggest that the "discovery" at Glastonbury attracted any unusual attention, at all.
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From their grave, the bodies of Arthur and Guinevere may have been translated to a tomb inside the newly rebuilt Lady Chapel, which had been completed in 1186. After the discovery in 1190, nothing is heard of the tomb or the bodies until many years later when they are reported by the "Annals of Waverley" to be in the treasury in the east range of the abbey church, awaiting a move to a more fitting location. The bodies remained there until the year 1278, when Edward I came to Glastonbury to preside over their re-interrment in a new marble coffin, underneath the high altar, in the recently rebuilt great abbey church (a marker indicates the spot where the tomb stood; see photo above). Arthur's cross was laid on top of the tomb for all to see, and there it remained for about 250 years.

The final disposition of the bodies is unknown, but they probably didn't survive the Dissolution of the abbey by Henry VIII and his zealots during the English Reformation in 1539. The burial cross did, though. It was seen and handled by John Leland around 1540 and illustrated for the 1607 edition of "Britannia" by William Camden. It was last reported in the possession of one William Hughes, an official of Wells Cathedral, sometime in the early eighteenth century.

The story of the cross doesn't end there, but continues on to the present day. There have been several reports in the 20th century that the cross has been found, but in each case, the reports have proven to be false. Those erroneous reports don't mean that the cross does not exist, only that it hasn't been found, yet. It may, even now, be gathering dust in an attic or a cellar, or perhaps lying unseen underneath a pile of logs in an outdoor shed. But, if it were to be found, it would be our only tangible link to the strange events at Glastonbury over 800 years ago.

What We Know About the Cross:
A cross was found during the excavation of a grave site next to the Lady Chapel at Glastonbury Abbey.
The date of the discovery was reported as taking place in 1190 (Adam of Domerham) and 1191 (Ralph of Coggeshall). This discrepancy can be accounted for by allowing for inaccuracies in the calendar that was in use in the late 12th century.
Adam of Domerham said that Arthur's grave was discovered 648 years after his death. If we take Geoffrey of Monmouth's word for it, the date of the Battle of Camlann and, presumably, his death was 542. The simple addition of 542 + 648 = 1190.
The cross was said to be "leaden".
The cross was fastened to the underside of a stone slab located seven feet down (the actual bones were found at the 16 foot level), and the inscription was turned in toward the stone slab.
There are five different reported versions of how the cross was inscribed (see above).
Gerald of Wales' account states that the inscription was on one side of the cross. He also says that the inscription included a reference to Guinevere. Camden's illustration of the cross shows the inscribed side, but there is no mention of Guinevere, there.
The letterforms used in the inscription are not consistent with any known fifth or sixth century script, but are more likely to be of the tenth century.
The earliest and most contemporary account of the dig is by Gerald of Wales (aka Giraldus Cambrensis, aka Gerald de Barri).
Ralph of Coggeshall's account states that Arthur's grave was located, accidentally, while digging a grave for a monk whose fervent desire was to be buried between the pyramids.
Gerald of Wales' account, said that the grave site location was given to the monks by Henry II, after it had been specifically revealed to him by a Welsh bard. It stated also that there was only one coffin (actually a hollowed-out log, split into two sections, one each for Arthur and his queen) and that the cross specifically mentioned her by name.
Adam of Domerham, writing in 1290, and John of Glastonbury, around 1350, tell us that there were two tombs and add the interesting detail that while the digging was being done, the grave site was surrounded by white draperies or curtains.
The Margam account stated that there were three separate coffins (one each for Arthur, Guinevere and Mordred) and that the wording on the cross did not mention Guinevere.
Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first to use the term Isle of Avalon, but he didn't equate it with any geographic place. The first equation of Glastonbury and Avalon came in Gerald of Wales' account.
There are three common elements in the five inscriptions: King Arthur, burial or interrment and Avalon. The following syllogism can be constructed using those common elements: Arthur's last resting place is the Isle of Avalon, Arthur lies in Glastonbury, therefore Glastonbury is the Isle of Avalon.
The only drawings of the cross (that we know of) were done by William Camden for the 1607 and 1608 editions of his historical work, "Britannia." There was some variation in the shapes of the letters between the two editions.
The usually reliable John Leland, writing in "Assertio Inclytissimi Arturii," having held the cross in his hands during a visit to the abbey around 1542, said that it measured nearly a foot in length.
The cross was attached to the top of the marble coffin in which Arthur and Guinevere's bones were reinterred in 1278 by Edward I.
The cross remained there until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, after which it spent the next hundred years or so in the Reverstry of the parish church of St. John Baptist, Glastonbury (Bodleian Rawlinson B.416A, folio 10v, see Carley, p. 178 )
The Cross disappeared from view and wound up, in the early 18th century, in the posession of a certain Mr. William Hughes, Chancellor of Wells.

 

The Arthur Cross Rediscovered? A 1981 hoax involving a fake cross.


Bibliography:
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•  Ashe, Geoffrey, King Arthur's Avalon: the Story of Glastonbury, Barnes & Noble, 1992
•  Barber, Richard, King Arthur: Hero and Legend, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1961
•  Carley, James P., Glastonbury Abbey, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1988,
•  Chambers, E.K., Arthur of Britain, Cambridge: Speculum Historiale, 1927, 1964
•  Newell, W. W., William of Malmesbury on the Antiquity of Glastonbury, PMLA, XVIII (1903)
•  Thorpe, Lewis, trans., Geoffrey of Monmouth: The History of the Kings of Britain, Penguin Books, 1966
•  Thorpe, Lewis, trans., Gerald of Wales: The Journey Through Wales and The Description of Wales, Penguin Books, 1978

The legend of King Arthur is an enduring one, so popular that it has been shared for centuries. The earliest accounts are simple: A heroic king rescues his country. The story evolved over the centuries, and further elements such as Camelot, the Round Table, and Merlin were added in for flavor. Some versions of the legend state that Arthur did not truly die, but rather that he was put in an enchanted sleep-- and it is said that he will return again in an hour of great need.
For hundreds of years the Arthur story has been retold in its various forms, though even ancient historians considered it nothing more than a myth. But in the twelfth century, evidence surfaced that suggested that one of history's most popular figures might have been more than a mere legend.

In the year 1190, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey in England announced an incredible discovery. According to historical record, the monks began to experience dreams and visions about King Arthur around that time, which prompted them to consult with King Henry II (AD 1133-1189). Henry informed them of a long-kept secret of the royal family: Arthur’s remains were buried in the churchyard of St. Dunstan in Glastonbury. A search was soon commissioned.
Upon excavating the indicated area, the searchers unearthed a massive oak trunk, buried sixteen feet deep just as Henry had described. Inside was a human skeleton which confirmed that they had discovered something special. It was absolutely gigantic. It appeared to be much taller than an average man, and the space between the eye sockets was as wide as the palm of a man’s hand. Apparently, this famous king was truly larger than life.
This skeleton was not alone in its coffin. Alongside it was a second, lying next to a plait of blonde hair. The identities of the two remains were described on an archaic lead cross which was found nearby, inscribed with the Latin message "Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia," meaning "Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon."
All in all, this was exciting stuff. Men and women flocked to Glastonbury from the surrounding regions, and King Henry II interred the ancient bones. Glastonbury soon became wealthy from the offerings and alms given by those who made the pilgrimage, and few questioned the authenticity of the find. Indeed, a few decades earlier the contemporary historian Geoffrey of Monmouth had claimed that Glastonbury was built on the site of ancient Avalon.
It turns out that Arthur's grave was not the first historically significant discovery made by the monks of Glastonbury. In 1184, they had allegedly found the remains of St. Patrick. However, this claim failed to convince most people, since it was widely believed that St. Patrick had been buried in Ireland. Soon after this incident, the monks of the town had found the bones of famed Saint Dunstan. This discovery, too, was not widely believed. Though St. Dunstan had begun his career in Glastonbury, he ultimately relocated to Canterbury and had been buried there.
It was several years later that the monks found the grave of King Arthur. The discovery was fortuitous, because the monastery was rumored to be in financial trouble. In 1184, the monastic building and church of Glastonbury had been razed to the ground in a fire, leaving the monks of the town in dire monetary straits. However, if an abbey were in possession of a sacred relic, then it would be assured revenue. People would visit from far and wide to see pieces of the cross, clothes and objects of the saints… and bones. King Arthur was not a religious figure, but as one of the foremost heroes in legendary history, his remains attracted a great deal of medieval tourists.
While the circumstances of the discovery cast it in a suspicious light, the story was supported by King Henry II King Edward, who had succeeded Henry III and who had no need for money. But he may have had political motives in backing such a hoax; England was being ruled by Norman conquerors. The Saxons generally accepted these rulers, but those belonging to the Celtic fringes did not. Among those who revolted against the Norman invaders, it was widely believed that Arthur would one day return and fend off the invaders. With proof that the Celts’ savior was truly dead, Edward would secure a greater hold on his subjects. He interred the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, symbolically aligning his reign with that of England’s most famous hero and putting the matter to rest.
Taken all together, the evidence strongly suggests that the grave of King Arthur was just an elaborate hoax, designed to benefit several parties. Unfortunately the bones and the cross went missing centuries ago, so the evidence cannot be examined using modern techniques. But if they are ever rediscovered, even if they prove to be forgeries, these artifacts would be an interesting testament to the enduring legacy of political trickery and propaganda.

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