Glastonbury is a small town located approximately 125 miles west of London in Somerset County, England. The town is known for both its history and folklore. The once majestic Glastonbury Abbey, Glastonbury Tor and St. Michael’s Tower are the landmarks most often visited.
There are many myths and legends connected to this hamlet which was established scores of centuries ago. The stories associated with Glastonbury are based on both religious beliefs and mystic legends. Researching this lovely and picturesque site allowed for me to mix my belief in God with my fascination of medieval history and Celtic folklore. Over these many years of life, I have marveled at the stories of Ireland, Stonehenge, Tara, Druids, and King Brian Boru too. So, I’ve greatly enjoyed this opportunity to delve into the lore of Glastonbury.
One such tale relates to the ideology of angels. The ancient Celts invoked their Anamchara (Celtic Angels) on a daily basis. They were believed to be celestial beings who were very interested in helping the spiritually aware to develop their souls and aid them in evolving to their higher self. The dogma of the Celts encompassed numerous accounts of winged messengers and their good deeds done.The Glastonbury Tor is a hill which features the roofless St. Michael’s Tower. Tor is a local word of Celtic origin which means rock outcropping or hill. The Tower has a striking location in the middle of a plain called the Summerland Meadows. The plain is actually reclaimed fenland which once rose up like an island, but now, is a peninsula washed on three sides by the River Brue.
Glastonbury Abbey was a once a rich and powerful monastery of England and is also situated on the properties. The Abbey was suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the reign King Henry VIII as part of his church reformation. And since around the 12th century, Glastonbury was frequently associated with the legend of King Arthur. A connection promoted by medieval monks who asserted that Glastonbury was indeed the lost island of Avalon.
Glastonbury is equally noted for myths and legends concerning Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail. Stories of a sacred vessel dear to the Celt’s heart became entwined with the story of Christ’s Last Supper and His Chalice. Throughout the ages, these tales are said to have inspired great quests and crusades.
From a religious standpoint, it is believed that post the crucifixion of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea took the Holy Grail used by Jesus into his possession. He traveled to Britain with the Cup. When Joseph landed on the island of Avalon, he set foot on a hill located just below the setting of the Glastonbury Tor. Joseph then stuck his staff into the ground and it formed into the Glastonbury Thorn. This is the myth associated with the hybrid hawthorn tree which only grows within a few miles of Glastonbury and flowers twice a year.
In order to keep the Relic safe, it is said, Joseph buried the Holy Grail just below the Glastonbury Tor. Once the Chalice was entombed, Christian mythology again suggests water began to flow from the ground. The Chalice Well is believed to mark the site where Joseph placed the holy artifact. The red of the water is also believed to represent the rusty iron nails used to crucify Jesus. Archaeological evidence indicates the well has been in use for at least two thousand years and the water is said to possess healing qualities.
Intertwining the myths and legends of Glastonbury Abbey’s history, it is widely believed that finding the Holy Grail is the purpose behind the quests of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. In 1191, monks residing in the Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found the graves of Arthur and his Queen Guinevere. The remains were later moved and lost during the Reformation of England. Many scholars suspect this discovery was a pious forgery to substantiate the antiquity of Glastonbury’s foundation, and increase its’ celebrated status. In some Arthurian literature, Glastonbury is indeed identified with the legendary island of Avalon.
Glastonbury is truly distinguished as an enchanted place. It is a sacred site designated from centuries past. And today, Glastonbury with all of its’ beauty and legends is still known as a major haven for pilgrims and spiritual seekers.