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The Thirteen Treasures of Britain by Human Odyssey

I was nicely surprised this morning when this amazing article was shared on my Facebook page Arthurian Romances! I’ve asked to post it here so you may enjoy it as well!

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The “Thirteen Treasures of Britain” are famous artefacts from Celtic legend. The kings and heroes of Britain possessed these divine hallows during the divine age – a time when Arthur and Merlin protected the realm.

Rulers and chieftains were given these treasures as a sign of their sovereignty. Each treasure had its own way of testing a king’s worthiness: they were designed to be wielded by the righteous and the brave, often failing in the hands of the wicked.

The Thirteen treasures of Britain included:

1. The Flaming Sword (Dyrnwyn) of Rhydderch Hael; Only the king of the north could wield this weapon which was said to burst into a flame from cross to the point.

2. The Chessboard of Gwenddolen was renowned for its ability to play opponents by itself. The board was made of gold, adorned with 32 silver pieces. The knight, Peredur, once played against it and lost. Outraged at his intellectual unworthiness, he threw the chess board into a lake.

3. The Hamper of Gwyddno Garanhir acted like a food replicator. Any goods that was placed inside it was copied ten-fold. Once reopened, it would have a hundred servings to feed a whole army of people.

4. The Carriage of Morgan Mwynvawr was renowned for its speed. It was claimed that its passengers were swiftly transported to wherever their hearts desired. Some said it flew through the sky to its destination, other that it arrived at its target in the blink of an eye.

5. The Horn of Bran Galed was especially sought after by those who liked their drink. It could dispense any beverage its user wished for, including rum, wine, beer and ale. Bran the Blessed, who was the custodian of this artefact, later became a guardian of the Holy Grail.

6. The Halter of Clydno Eiddyn could tame any horse in the kingdom. It was kept at the end of Eiddyn’s bed. Whatever horse he wished for at night, would appear harnessed to the halter in the morning. This was a most prized possession for any horse-loving Celt.

7. The Knife of Llawfrodded Farchawg was so swift that it could serve up a hog-roast for twenty-four men all at once. It was great for a feast, but could also be a deadly weapon on the battlefield.

8. The Cauldron of Dyrnwch (a Celtic giant) could boil a most delicious stew, but it would only feed the most courageous of people. If a coward tried to boil meat in it, the flesh would remain uncooked. However, if a brave champion placed his kill in the pot, it would cook a sumptuous feast for him and his army.

9. The Tunic of Padarn Beisrudd was made to fit the kind and noble hearted. If a wicked person tried to adorn themselves with the armoured tunic, it would shrink in size, prohibiting the unworthy from its magical benefits.

10. The Whetstone of Tudwal Tudelud produced the most finely sharpened swords in the land. However, it would only hone the blade of a brave and fierce warrior. Any enemy struck by its finely polished blade was sure to die. However, if a coward sharpened his sword on its magical edge, it would blunt their weapon, rendering it useless in battle.

11. The Crockery of Rhegynydd Ysgolhaig produced the most wondrous feasts. It would fill itself to the brim with whatever food its master wished for, and was said to feed thousands of people during the harvest festival.

12. The Mantle of Arthur could conceal the user from his enemies. Whoever was robed in this magical cloth would become concealed to the outside world. Rather than a cloak of invisibility, it functioned more like a chameleon, blending in with its surroundings.

13. The Ring of Eluned was perhaps the most powerful artefact of all. Whoever concealed the stone of this ring would become invisible. They would not be able to kill anyone while concealed, for as soon as they took their hand away from the stone, they would become visible once again. This helped to ensure the ring wasn’t used as a deadly weapon in the wrong hands.

According to legend, Merlin the magician spent many years searching for all these divine artefacts. Eventually he procured all thirteen treasures from their owners and took them to his glass abode on Bardsey Island, Wales. When he eventually faded from this world, the divine age of Celts came to an end.

Some say the treasures of Britain can be found in Merlin’s secret tomb, but sadly its location has been lost in the annals of time. Others say the treasures are still with us, buried beneath Britain, waiting for a virtuous and noble soul to reclaim them.

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Glastonbury Abbey

This is one of my favorite places in the world!

photo 1

 

Just breathtaking…sigh

King Arthur’s Burial Cross

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King Arthur’s Burial Cross
The cross existed at one time and may still exist in some dark cellar or dusty attic. If found, it would be the only tangible relic in existence associated with King Arthur and could provide important clues as to whether or not it was his grave that was opened on that day in 1190.

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.

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:
………………………………..

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

Glastonbury

Glastonbury

Population 8,784 [1]
OS grid reference ST501390
District Mendip
Shire county Somerset
Region South West
Country England
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: UK • England • Somerset
Glastonbury is a small town in Somerset, England, situated at a dry point on the low lying Somerset Levels, 30 miles (48 km) south of Bristol. The town, which is in the Mendip district, had a population of 8,784 in the 2001 census.[1] Glastonbury is less than 1 mile (2 km) across the River Brue from the village of Street.

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, 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 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, along with a collection of ley lines, but no evidence has been discovered. Glastonbury Festival takes its name from the town but is actually held in the nearby village of Pilton.

History

Prehistory
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.[2] 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.[3] Tree-ring dating (dendrochronology) of the timbers has enabled very precise dating of the track, showing it was built in 3807 or 3806 BC.[4] It has been claimed to be the oldest road in the world.[5] The track was discovered in the course of peat digging in 1970, and is named after its discoverer, Ray Sweet.[6] 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,[5] 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.[7]

Magdelene Chapel
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,[8] 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.[9] It was built on a morass on an artificial foundation of timber filled with brushwood, bracken, rubble and clay.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12]

William of Malmesbury in his De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie gives the Old Celtic Ineswitrin (or Ynys Witrin) as its earliest name,[13] and asserts that the founder of the town was the eponymous Glast, a descendant of Cunedda.[11]

Centwine (676–685) was the first Saxon patron of Glastonbury Abbey.[14] In 1016 Edmund Ironside was crowned king at Glastonbury.[15] After his death later that year he was buried at the abbey.[16] 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.[17][18]

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.[19] 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.[20] 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,[21] and a Scheduled ancient monument.[22] In 2010 plans were announced to restore the building.[23]

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.[12] Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, was executed with two of his monks on 15 November 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries.[24]

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.[25]

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.[26]

The Somerset towns charter of incorporation was received in 1705.[12] 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.[12]

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.[12] 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.[27] The lower sections of the canal were given to the Commissioners for Sewers,[28] 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.[27] The Central Somerset Railway merged with the Dorset Central Railway to become the Somerset and Dorset Railway.[29] The main line to Glastonbury closed in 1966.[27]

In the Northover district industrial production of sheepskins, woollen slippers and, later, boots and shoes,[30] 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.[31]

During the 19th and 20th centuries tourism developed based on the rise of antiquarianism, the association with the abbey and mysticism of the town.[32] 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.[12]

Glastonbury received national media coverage in 1999 when cannabis plants were found in the town’s floral displays.[33][34]

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.[35]

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.[36] 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
in England
General
Anglican Communion
Roman Catholic Church
in England and Wales
Calendar of saints
(Church of England)
Early
Joseph of Arimathea
Legend of Christ in Britain
Christianity in Roman Britain
Post-Roman
Anglo-Saxon Christianity
Reformation
Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Dissolution of the Monasteries
Anglicanism
English Reformation
Marian Persecutions
Oxford Martyrs
Post-Reformation
Puritanism and the Restoration
English Civil War
18th Century Church of England
19th Century Church of England
Catholic Emancipation
Church of England (Recent)
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.[37] 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.[38]

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.[39] According to some versions of the Arthurian legend, Lancelot retreated to Glastonbury Abbey in penance following Arthur’s death.[40]

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.[41]

The original Holy Thorn was a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages but was chopped down during the English Civil War.[42] 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).[43] 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.[44] The legend also says that as a child, Joseph had visited Glastonbury along with Jesus. 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).[45]

In 1935 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 in 1983; one by Ian Burrow and the other by Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy. 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.[46] Glastonbury is also said to be the centre of several ley lines.[47]

Governance and public services

The Town Hall
The town council is made up of 12 members,[48] 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.[49]

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.[50] 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,[51] 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,[52] and a National Health Service community hospital operated by Somerset Primary Care Trust which opened in 2005.[53]

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.[54] 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,[55] and Lalibela, Ethiopia.[56]

Geography

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,[57] 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.[58][59] The lowland landscape was formed only during the last 10,000 years, following the end of the last ice age.[60]

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.[61] 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.[62] The old bridge was replaced by a reinforced concrete arch bridge in 1911.[63]

Until the 13th century, the direct route to the sea at Highbridge was prevented by gravel banks and peat near Westhay.[64] 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.[65] 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.[65] It is one of an increasing number of landscape scale conservation projects in the UK.[66][67]

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.[68][69] 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.[70]

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.

Climate

Glastonbury has a temperate climate that is generally wetter and milder than the rest of the country. The annual mean temperature is approximately 10 °C (50.0 °F) and shows a seasonal and a diurnal variation, but because of the modifying effect of the sea the range is less than in most other parts of the UK. January is the coldest month with mean minimum temperatures between 1 °C (33.8 °F) and 2 °C (35.6 °F). July and August are the warmest months, with mean daily maxima around 21 °C (69.8 °F).[71]

The southwest of England has a favoured location with respect to the Azores high pressure when it extends its influence northeastwards towards the UK, particularly in summer. Convective cloud often forms inland however, especially near hills, reducing the number of hours of sunshine. The average annual sunshine totals around 1,600 hours.[71]

Rainfall tends to be associated with Atlantic depressions or with convection. The Atlantic depressions are more vigorous in autumn and winter and most of the rain which falls in those seasons in the southwest is from this source. Average rainfall is about 725 millimetres (28.5 in). November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, and June to August have the lightest winds. The predominant wind direction is from the southwest.[71]
Economy

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 redevoped. The 31-acre (13 ha) site of the old Morlands factory was scheduled for demolition and redevelopment into a new light industrial park,[72][73] 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.[74]

Landmarks

The Tribunal was a medieval merchant’s house, used as the Abbey courthouse and, during the Monmouth Rebellion trials, by Judge Jeffreys.[75] 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.[76] The building also houses the tourist information centre.[77]

George Hotel and Pilgrims’ Inn
The octagonal Market Cross was built in 1846 by Benjamin Ferrey.[78]

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.[79] 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.[79]

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.[80]

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.[81] 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.[82]

Transport

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,[83] but it became uneconomic with the arrival of the railway in the 1840s.[84]

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.[85] The site is now a timber yard for a local company. Replica level crossing gates have been placed at the entrance.[86]

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.[87]

Education

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.[88] 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.[89]

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,[90] 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.[91] 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.[92] 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.[93]

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.[94]) 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.[95]

The Church of St Benedict was rebuilt by Abbot Richard Beere in about 1520.[96]

The Church of St John the Baptist dates from the 15th century and has been designated as a Grade I listed building.[97] 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.[98]

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.[99]

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.[100][101]

Sports

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.[102] 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.[103]

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.[104] The club plays at the Tor Leisure Ground, which used to stage Somerset County Cricket Club first-class fixtures.

Culture

Glastonbury has been described as a New Age community where communities have grown up to include people with New Age beliefs.[105][106]

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.[107] 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.[108]

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.[109] Apart from the founding of a national theatre, they envisaged a summer school and music festival based on utopian principles.[110] With strong Arthurian connections and historic and prehistoric associations, Glastonbury was chosen to host the festivals.

There is little link, beyond the name, between the festivals and the modern Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts, founded in 1970 which 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.[111] 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[112] and the capacity expanded by 20,000 to 177,000.[113] The festival has spawned a range of other work including the 1972 film Glastonbury Fayre[114] and album, 1996 film Glastonbury the Movie[115] and the 2005 DVD Glastonbury Anthems.[116]

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.[117] 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.[118]

Glastonbury is one of the venues for the annual West Country Carnival.[119]

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.[120] Thomas Bramwell Welch the discoverer of the pasteurisation process to prevent the fermentation of grape juice was born in Glastonbury in 1825.[121] The judge John Creighton represented Lunenburg County in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly from 1770 to 1775.[122] The fossil collector Thomas Hawkins lived in the town during the 19th century.[123]

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.[124] 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.[125] Eckhart Tolle, a German-born writer, public speaker, and spiritual teacher lived in Glastonbury during the 1980s.[126] 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,[127][128][129][130] 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,[131] 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.[132] Gary Stringer, lead singer of Reef, was a local along with other members of the band,[133] as are the band Flipron.[134] The juggler Haggis McLeod and his late wife, Arabella Churchill one of the founders of the Glastonbury Festival lived in the town.[135] The author and dramatist Nell Leyshon and she has set much of her work in the local area.[136] Sarah Fielding, the 18th-century author and sister of the novelist Henry Fielding, lived in the town.[137] Michael Aldridge a character actor who appeared as Seymour in the television series Last of the Summer Wine was born in Glastonbury.[138] The conductor Charles Hazlewood lives locally and hosts the “Play the Field” music festival on his farm nearby.[139] Bill Bunbury moved on from Glastonbury to become a writer, radio broadcaster, and producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.[140]
Athletes and sports players have also been resident. Cricketers born in the town include Cyril Baily in 1880,[141] George Burrough in 1907,[142] and Eustace Bisgood in 1878.[143] The footballer Peter Spiring was born in Glastonbury in 1950.[144]

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^ “University Level courses”. Strode College. Retrieved 5 July 2009.
^ Ashe, Geoffrey, From Caesar to Arthur, University of Michigan, 1960. Page 87
^ Ashe, Geoffrey, From Caesar to Arthur, University of Michigan, 1960. pages 83-90
^ “Glastonbury Abbey”. Cathedrals Plus. The Pilgrims Association. Retrieved 19 August 2008.
^ “Abbot’s Kitchen, Glastonbury Abbey”. Images of England. Retrieved 11 November 2006.
^ “Abbey Gatehouse, including the porters’ lodge”. Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 18 August 2008.
^ “Church of St Benedict”. Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
^ “Church of St John the Baptist, High Street (North side), Glastonbury”. Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. Retrieved 18 May 2009.
^ “Church of St John the Baptist”. Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 18 May 2009.
^ “Congregational Church”. Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
^ http://www.goddesstemple.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15&Itemid=81
^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/subdivisions/goddess.shtml

Grave of King Arthur

I was beyond thrilled to visit King Arthur’s grave. Maybe next time I’ll publish the pics of me standing with it 😉

Morgan Le Faye

Morgan Le Fay

Morgan Le Fay: popularly known as Arthurian sorceress, benevolent fairy, priestess, dark magician, enchantress, witch, sea goddess, shape-changer, healer, and the sole personage of Avalon the Isle of Apples, not to mention daughter of Ygerna (Igraine) and Gorlois, half-sister to King Arthur, mother of Mordred, lady-in-waiting to Guinevere, wife of Uriens, lover of Sir Accolon, fancier of Sir Lancelot, and ‘as fair a lady as any might be’.

Morgan Le Fay was first introduced into Arthurian legend by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Vita Merlini (c. 1150) but her true origin, as with many Arthurian characters, leads back into Celtic mythology and inevitably develops with each new rendition of the tale. Morgan Le Fay’s character is interesting enough, but so is her name.

The name ‘Morgan Le Fay’

In Celtic terms, Morgan (or Morcant) is a man’s name. The feminine version is more correctly Morgain (or Morgue or Morgne). Also Morrigan equates with Morrigu of Irish mythology. According to Celtic tradition the Morrigan (a Triple Goddess of Celtic myth, thought of as the Goddess of Death) flew over battles, shrieking like ravens and claiming dead soldiers’ heads as trophies. Or the answer may lie in Uriens – in early Welsh literature Modron (a version of Matrona) was the daughter of Avallach, wife of Urien, and mother of Owein. The Welsh and Arthurian story lines were later merged, forming a link between Modron and King Arthur. Further, there was a sixth-century Cumbrian ruler called Urien Rheged who presided over a loose coalition of kings (according to some accounts there was also an Arthur, son of King Aedan of dal Riada). Urien had a loose ally: Morcant Bulc – a man – who eventually plotted to assassinate him, which could have been Sir Thomas Malory’s inspiration for the plot in Le Morte d’Arthur where Morgan Le Fay attempts to kill Arthur and Uriens.

‘Le Fay’ is an ancient word for a fairy and to this day, apparently, the Breton name for a water-nymph is a ‘Morgan’.

The possible roots of the Arthurian character Morgan Le Fay therefore run deep into early British mythology and can be traced across several hundred years up to her final act as one of the three women who transported the fatally wounded King Arthur in a barge to the Isle of Avalon to be healed (outcome unrecorded). A speculative summary, based on Welsh and other Arthurian legend, suggest an identification with Modron and also with the river goddess Matrona, possibly derived from the Irish goddess Morrigan. Given the superstitious Christian attitude to supernatural women in the medieval era, the more she is humanised, the more the name Morgan Le Fay descends into an easy literary metaphor for devious, sometimes evil mischief.

Nonetheless the much-maligned Morgan Le Fay never becomes purely evil. Her attractive qualities remain – a healer, she is associated with art and culture, she is sexy, and in the end is worthy of redemption.

Morgan Le Fay pre-Malory

In Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, Morgan was the chief among her nine sisters: Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliten, Glitonea, Cliton, Tyronoe, and Thitis, and Morgause. She could change shape at will (and to be young or old, beautiful or ugly, or an animal or other object) and to fly with wings, hence – ‘Le Fay’, or Faerie. There was no suggestion of a blood relationship between Arthur and Morgan – she was simply his healer. In Chrétien de Troyes’ Erec and Enide, Morgan le Fay was a friend of Guingamar, Lord of Avalon and one of the guests at the wedding of Erec and Enide. Chrétien descibes her as a giver of healing ointments but she is more typically portrayed as a wicked enchantress who learned her crafts in a Christian nunnery, powers which were subsequently extended with the help of Merlin. She was referred to later as Arthur’s sister (and again as a healer), and in Le Chevalier au Lion her ointments cured Yvain’s madness. Neither Geoffrey of Monmouth nor Chrétien de Troyes described her as the wife of Uriens.

In the The Vulgate Cycle (1215 to 1235) Morgan Le Fay is however married to Uriens. She is also Queen Guinevere’s lady in waiting and fell in love with the King’s nephew, Giomar, but Guinevere put an end to the romance. Morgan responded by betraying the Queen’s affair with Lancelot to King Arthur. She had herself become infatuated with Sir Lancelot though he consistently refused her attentions, despite being imprisoned by her several times. The suspect nature of Morgan Le Fay’s character appears to have been fuelled by the Cistercian monks who wrote the stories of the Vulgate Cycle, prejudiced by the earlier concept of the Morrighan. They undoubtedly considered the idea of a non-religious female healer to be the mark of blasphemy.

In another well-known work – the anonymous late 14th Century poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ (the Green Knight was, like Morgan, a ‘shape-shifter’) – she was the instigator of the plot which began the story. Here, the Virgin Mary (as the female archetype representing spiritual love, obedience, chastity, and life) is contrasted with Morgan Le Fay’s representation of courtly love, disobedience, lust and death.

Morgan Le Fay in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur

In Le Morte d’Arthur Morgan Le Fay is fully established as wife of Uriens, sister of Arthur, but is not, truly, a major character. Her best-known part in the tale is as follows:

When Uther Pendragon married Igraine (Book 1), Morgan was the youngest of her three daughters from her previous marriage to Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, who had been slain by Uther’s army just before he raped her at Tintagel Castle (and begat Arthur). Morgan was then sent to a nunnery. According to Malory’s timescale, at the time of Uther’s death two years later, Morgan would have been between thirteen and sixteen and already married to Uriens. At any rate, when the young King Arthur waged war against the five kings Morgan had a grown son, Uwaine, who was close to knighthood.

King Arthur and Morgan Le Fay first came face to face when he sent for Igraine to verify his parentage. At that stage there are no indications of any feelings either way between Morgan and Arthur, but at the burial of Lot and the eleven kings (Book 2) Merlin told Arthur, “Sir, take care with the scabbard of Excalibur, for ye shall lose no blood while ye have it upon you, no matter how many wounds ye have.” Arthur passed the scabbard to Morgan Le Fay for safekeeping, but she loved another knight more than she did her husband (or King Arthur) so she secretly had made a replica of the scabbard and gave the real one to her lover, Sir Accolon of Gaul to protect him.

Following the war with the five kings, Arthur, Uriens, and Accolon went on a hunt (Book 4). Their horses exhausted, they found themselves near nightfall by a great lake where they saw a silk-clad ship approach. Venturing on board, they were greeted by twelve damosels, banqueted, then shown separate chambers. Once in a drug-induced sleep, each was magically transported away, Uriens back to Camelot (where he awoke beside Morgan), Arthur to the prison of the evil Sir Damas (minus his sword and scabbard), and Accolon to a well close to manor of the good Ontzlake, younger brother of Sir Damas.

Morgan Le Fay’s wicked plan

Despite being brothers, Sir Damas and Sir Ontzlake had become mortal enemies, the younger offering to resolve their differences in combat but the latter always refusing, preferring to elect another knight to fight for him. But Damas was too hated ever to find such a knight. At this point a damsel came to Arthur with an offer from Damas that he and his fellow-prisoners would be freed if he would take on the fight, to which Arthur agreed. The damsel was of course ‘false’, having been sent by Morgan Le Fay.

At the same time a dwarf came to Sir Accolon by the well, sent by Morgan to remind him of his earlier (secret) promise to fight an unspecified knight whenever she chose the moment. Accolon would bring her the knight’s head and Morgan Le Fay would become Queen. And now was the moment. The dwarf gave him Excalibur and the scabbard, sent by Morgan, and Accolon made himself ready for combat, on behalf, as it turned out, of Sir Ontzlake against his brother. As Arthur in turn readied himself another damsel came, once again sent by Morgan, and gave him a sword like Excalibur and its scabbard, from which he took reassurance not knowing they were nothing more than poor replicas. The whole monstrous ruse, evidently, had long been planned by Morgan Le Fay so that she could replace Guinevere as Queen.

Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, saves King Arthur

The duel, watched by Nimue, the Lady of the lake, was prolonged and bloody and Sir Accolon, boldened by Excalibur, almost won after Arthur’s useless sword snapped off at the handle. Nimue took pity and with the help of her enchantment Arthur was able to deal such a blow to his opponent that the real Excalibur fell to the ground and he leaped to it and took it in his hand. About to kill Accolon, he asked his name and Accolon confessed all, and thus was spared but died from his wounds soon after, prompting Arthur to despatch his remains to his half-sister at Camelot as a warning.

In the meantime Morgan would have slain her husband, confident of Accolon’s success with Excalibur and the scabbard, but Uriens was saved at the last moment by the intervention of Uwaine, his son, by whom Morgan would herself have been slain had she not agreed to leave Camelot forever. She rode to the nunnery where Arthur was recovering from his wounds and tried to steal back the real Excalibur and scabbard while he slept, but was only able to take the scabbard because the sword was in his hand. When Arthur awoke he set off with Sir Ontzlake in pursuit of Morgan, but she cast the scabbard into a deep lake. She then used her shape-changing powers to disguise herself and her entourage as standing stones to escape further pursuit.

Morgan Le Fay then retreated to her domains (still Book 4). En route she came across a knight leading another bound knight, Manassen (a cousin of Accolon) to be drowned in a fountain for adultery with his wife. For her lost love, and because Manassen swore his innocence, she released him and let him bind and drown his accuser.

At this point Morgan fades somewhat from the mainstream of the story. She went to occupy her lands in Gore, and then to her Castle of Tauroc. To thwart any reprisal by Arthur she sent a damosel to give him a rich mantle embellished with precious stones (in atonement for her sins). But the mantle was laced with poison – Nimue intervened to save Arthur, who made its bearer put it on, who fell down and burnt to coals. Uwaine was later suspected by Arthur of being instrumental in Morgan’s earlier escape from Camelot, and was banished from the court.

The Royal court appears to have thought Morgan Le Fay dead, until King Arthur came across her residence while out hunting one day, and the two were reconciled. In later life she moved to the Isle of Avalon, where she and her allies, the Queen of Northgalis, and the Queen of the Wastelands (and also many damosels, including Nimue) took her dying half-brother to be “healed” after his last battle.

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Magical Glastonbury Part 3 by Geoffrey Ashe

Magical Glastonbury Part 3
By Geoffrey Ashe

In 1191, the monks of the Abbey claimed to have found his grave in their cemetery. Guided by a hint from a Welsh bard, they had dug down and discovered a stone slab. Under it was a cross of lead with a Latin inscription saying “Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.” Digging farther down, they had unearthed a coffin made from a hollowed-out log. Inside were the bones of a tall man who appeared to have been killed by a blow on the head, because the skull was damaged. Some smaller bones were taken to be Guinevere’s. Modern excavation has shown that the monks did dig at a place south of the Lady Chapel, and did find an early burial. Most historians would deny that the bones were Arthur’s, and dismiss the inscribed cross as a fake. But some have been willing to accept the identity as possible, even probable.

Throughout the Middle Ages the Abbey was growing. Its main church, nearly 600 feet long, was the largest in England after St Paul’s Cathedral in London, with space for thousands of pilgrims on the principal holy days. The Abbot was Chief Justice in central Somerset, and the people for many miles around were his tenants. The Abbey maintained a school, and one of the finest libraries in England. It flourished until 1539, when Henry VIIl’s policy of dissolution caught up with it. The last abbot, Richard Whiting, was convicted on trumped-up charges and hanged on the Tor, and his Abbey was dissolved like the rest.

Surveying this long record, we can see that Glastonbury has been a place of great beginnings. It has a strange vitality. Its Christian community, if not literally the first in Britain, was the first that survived, carrying on without a break from early times. It brought together Celts and Saxons; in a symbolic sense, the United Kingdom was born here. It was the fountainhead of cultural recovery in the aftermath of the Norse. Its legends were at the roots of the national saga of King Arthur.

The Abbey’s downfall looked like the end. The buildings passed into private hands, and a succession of owners, who had no interest in preservation, used them as a quarry for saleable stone. Yet after all, Glastonbury was not dead, or reduced to a country town like many others. According to tradition, in 1587 an old man named Austin Ringwode, who had formerly been employed by the Abbey, prophesied on his deathbed that Glastonbury would be reborn and then “peace and plenty would for a long time abound.” The rebirth began (if in ways that Austin Ringwode hardly foresaw) in the twentieth century. The extraordinary spell of the place began to work again.

Several things happened. The Abbey’s last owner put it on the market, and the Church of England acquired it and has looked after it ever since. Each summer Anglican and Catholic pilgrims gather in thousands. Other developments were due to people with interests that were more secular, or, if religious, frequently offbeat and eccentric. In the 1920’s, Glastonbury was the venue of the first major English festival of music and drama, founded by the operatic composer, Rutland Boughton, with support from celebrities such as George Bernard Shaw and Sir Thomas Beecham. Rutland Boughton’s festival was the ancestor of others at Bath, Malvern, and elsewhere. Later came the establishment of a trust to preserve what is believed to be an ancient sacred spring, mentioned in one of the Grail stories and now called Chalice Well (pictured at right). The Chalice Well garden is a famous meeting place for visitors from many countries, with a variety of interests. Later again came a surprising discovery of Glastonbury by the alternative society, the so-called hippies. The “Glastonbury Fayre” in 1971 was a sort of mystical Woodstock. After much strife and controversy, it is still repeated in most summers and attracts tens of thousands, though, of course, it has changed considerably.

Today, Glastonbury’s role as a spiritual focus outside the churches is shown in a restored community centre, in a special-interest Library of Avalon, in healing clinics, in New Age conference rooms. Numerous tourists and seekers converge here especially from America. Some of the developments may look odd, but they cannot be ignored, and they involve many people of goodwill and intelligence. For a long time, “straight” and “alternative” elements in the town were sharply divided. The summer of 1996, however, may resolve some of the divisions with a new festival commemorating Rutland Boughton and bringing together musicians, artists, authors and others from different strata of the population. Is the reborn Glastonbury taking coherent shape? It may well be.

Magical Glastonbury Part 2 Geoffrey Ashe

Whatever the facts may have been, the basic Joseph legend grew around something that was real and solid, an ancient church constructed of wattles – interlaced twigs or rods – with reinforcements of timber and lead. Bound with clay, wattle-work can be a stalwart material. It was used by early settlers in Wisconsin, and the remains of a wattle structure can be seen at New Harmony, Indiana, among the buildings in a community founded by the philanthropist Robert Gwen.

In the centuries after Britain broke from the Roman Empire, a group of Celtic British monks lived beside Glastonbury’s small wattle church. It may already have been so old that no one knew who the builder was. Chroniclers decided eventually that it was Joseph of Arimathea, and that idea was the nucleus of the tale of his coming to Glastonbury. There were other stories connecting him with Britain, but no one knows which came first, or why such an unlikely person was ever thought of. The belief may reflect a lost tradition. At any rate, the site of the “Old Church” came to be known as “the holiest earth of England,” where the Christian Faith was first planted. Today, the Lady Chapel among the ruins marks the place.

Hard evidence is lacking. Archaeologists have found traces of Christian settlement at least as early as the sixth century, on the Abbey site and on the upper part of the Tor. Gildas, a British author, seems to mention the Old Church about the year 530. Hermits may have lived hereabouts farther back, and there was some kind of Roman presence. But the more distant past is lost in obscurity. Those who wish to believe in Joseph are free to do so. Certainly, after the Gospel incident, history says nothing about his later life anywhere else.

When Christian Glastonbury began, most of the people of what is now England were British Celts, ancestors of the Welsh. But the pagan Anglo-Saxons, ancestors of the English, moved in from across the North Sea and gradually overran the country. At first they wiped out whatever Christian institutions they found. However, their advance slowed down. The West Saxon kingdom of Wessex did not expand far enough to absorb Glastonbury until the middle of the seventh century. By then its kings were Christians, themselves, and they took over the British community peaceably. At Glastonbury, as nowhere else in England, we have a major instance of Christian continuity right through from Celtic times, As one historian has put it, the Saxon kings made the place a temple of reconciliation between previously hostile peoples.

Its monastery grew into an abbey of the Benedictine Order. The greatest abbot, St. Dunstan, in the tenth century, started the drainage of the still-waterlogged country round about, embanking the river to prevent flooding. He launched the restoration of learning and religion in England after the Norse destruction of monasteries and monastic schools. His successors continued the reclamation of most of the territory down to the Bristol Channel, and protected it with sea-walls, so that it is now farming land.

Medieval Glastonbury played a part in the making of the legends of Arthur. Joseph of Arimathea, or a companion of his, was said to have brought the Holy Grail, the wonder-working vessel of the Last Supper, to Britain., From a first Avalonian resting-place, it had been removed to a mysterious castle, and, four hundred years later, many of Arthur’s knights rode out in quest of it. The King himself had at least one personal connection with Glastonbury: he had besieged it to rescue Guinevere from an abductor, and visited the Old Church when the matter was settled.

Magical Glastonbury by Geoffrey Ashe

Glastonbury is unique, sacred, spell-binding. It is a small town town in Somerset, cradled in a cluster of hills that are all different shapes. The highest is the Tor, a whaleback formation with a tower on top, once part of a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Near the Tor is the smooth dome of Chalice Hill. Wearyall Hill is a long narrow ridge pointing toward the Bristol Channel. Windmill Hill, on the side facing the cathedral city of Wells, is less clearly defined and covered with houses, Below are the ruins of a great medieval abbey.

Early in the Christian era, the hill-cluster was nearly encircled with shallow water, the river Brue provided a deeper channel enabling sea-going craft to reach it. An old name for it is Ynys-witrin, the Island of Glass; “island” because, from most angles of approach, it would have looked like one. A more famous name is Avalon, the Apple-place. In Celtic lore Avalon was an isle of enchantment.

This area was probably sacred long before Christianity. Around the sides of the Tor is a strange system of terracing. Much weathered and eroded, but still well-defined, it has been interpreted as a maze following an ancient magical pattern, which is found in Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Pompeii, Crete and India, and even among the Hopi of Arizona, who call it the Mother Earth Symbol. If the maze on the Tor is real, human labour formed it four or five thousand years ago, during the period of vast ritual works that created Stonehenge and Avebury. There are grounds for thinking that the Tor would have been a sanctuary of Goddess-worship. To come down to a somewhat later time, archaeology has shown that toward the beginning of the Christian era, this neighbourhood became an important centre of Celtic population, with far-flung trade. The inhabitants lived on small artificial islands.

According to a much-loved legend, Christian Glastonbury began with the arrival of Joseph of Arimathea. He figures in the Gospels as a rich disciple who obtained the body of Christ and laid it in the tomb. Some say he was an older kinsman and had brought Jesus here as a boy, perhaps on a trading voyage to Britain. Reputedly, in the years after the Crucifixion, he came to this remote country on a mission with several companions. They made their home in Avalon and remained there as a community of hermits. An offshoot of the legend concerns a local variety of hawthorn known as the Glastonbury Thorn. It is said that Joseph planted his staff in the ground, and it became a tree that blossomed at Christmas. Descendants of a medieval hawthorn on Wearyall Hill actually do blossom at Christmas or thereabouts, While no other English hawthorn does this, there are some that do in the Middle East, including Palestine.

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