Glastonbury Abbey

Myth and legend abound in Glastonbury. Yet often myth and legend carry grains of truth. The pilgrim has to decide for herself/himself. Was there ever ‘the old church’ (the ‘vetusta ecclesia’) with wattle walls and reed thatch referred to by mediaeval writers? Did Joseph of Arimathea bring the child Jesus to Glastonbury on one of his tin trade missions? Nothing is impossible yet it is all lost in conjecture, agendas and the mists of time. History tells us a church was founded at this site in the 7th century and enlarged in the 10th century, destroyed by fire in 1184 and rebuilt, achieving its grandeur by the 14th century. By then it was one of the most powerful and richest monasteries in England.

From the 12th century, after the fire, the Abbey was associated with Grail stories of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, promoted by the monks to encourage pilgrimage with the idea of Glastonbury as the mystical Avalon. It was then suppressed and destroyed by Henry VIII; the last Abbot was hung, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor in 1539. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries it fell into ruin and was purchased by the Diocese of Bath and Wells in 1908 and is now owned by Glastonbury Abbey Trust. Dion Fortune captured the essence of what remains: ‘There is spiritual power in Glastonbury. To stand in the centre of the great nave, looking towards the high altar, is like standing waist-deep in a swift mountain stream. Invisible force is rushing past with a streaming moment. Only in one other place and on one other occasion have I felt the like force – at Christmas communion in Westminster Abbey, when, coming out of the transept into the slow moving file of the waiting communicants it was as if one stepped from the bank of a river into swift-moving water when the central aisle was reached.’ (Avalon of the Heart /Weiser Books 1930)

Location: In the centre of Glastonbury with parking nearby and a seasonal minibus service to the foot of Glastonbury Tor.

Coordinates: 51° 8′ 44″ N2° 42′ 52″ W

Photo credit: Kevin Redpath, Glastonbury