Posted by: nancycurteman | January 25, 2013

Glastonbury: Land of History, Myth and Legend

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Glastonbury, situated in Southwest England on the Somerset Moors, is a history buff’s paradise. Glastonbury is a land of history, myth and legend. The area around Glastonbury was once flooded marshland. Neolithic people constructed wooden trackways in order to reap the natural resources of the reed swamps. These trackways included the Sweet Track, west of Glastonbury, which is one of the oldest engineered roads known and is the second oldest timber trackway in Northern Europe. Romans planted a vineyard near Glastonbury, which lasted until the Middle Ages. Many believe Glastonbury might have been King Arthur’s Isle of Avalon from the twelfth century. History buffs can learn about Glastonbury’s history, myths and legends by visiting its famous sites.


Glastonbury Tor or hill was once the realm of fairies. Legend has it Gwynn ap Nudd – the lord of the underworld lived beneath this hill. Saints, armed with holy water visited him in his realm. St. Michael’s tower at the top of the tor is all that remains of a church that fell in an earthquake in 1275. Just below the Tor, Joseph of Arimathea, exhausted from his travels, thrust his staff into the ground, and rested. By morning, his staff had taken root and grown into a strange thorn bush unknown in the region, now called the sacred Glastonbury Thorn.

thThe Chalice Well, set in the gardens at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, is wrapped in the myths of Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus, and the Arthurian legends. It is believed to be the place Joseph buried the Holy Grail. Finding the chalice became the goal of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

The Abbey is where the grave of Arthur and Guinevere is said to lie. The Abbey’s Chapel of St. Mary, also called the St. Joseph Chapel, isth-1 on the spot where St. Joseph of Arimathea is said to have built a church of wood and wattles shortly after the Crucifixion.

Glastonbury itself is thought to be Avalon where Arthur reigned from a glorious court, and carried a sword named Caliburn, that was fashioned on the mystical isle of Avalon. From here Arthur defeated the Saxon hordes at the battle Badon early in the sixth century.

For an authentic excursion back in history, visit the Peat Moors Centre. It puts the legend and mysticism of Glastonbury’s sites in the context of a real Iron Age settlement. Glastonbury Lake Village is a reconstruction of three Iron Age roundhouses in which visitors can participate in craft and living history demonstrations of every aspect of life in the prehistoric Somerset wetlands including the folk-history of peat cutting on the Avalon moors.

Glastonbury is indeed a place rich in history, myth and legend.

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  1. Made it to England once for a week or so. Drove to Bath. Got lost, never did find Glastonbury. Kept ending up on the road to Stonehenge.


    • I’m interested in what it was like to drive on the left side of the road. Also, what did you think of Bath.


  2. Fascinating…thanks for the history lesson.


    • I was a history major in college. I love finding fascinating facts about the places I visit. Glad you share my interest.


  3. Sounds a great place to wander and wonder . . . and ponder. Thanks, NC.


    • I’m a fan of the King Arthur story. Glastonbury brings me a little closer to some of the facts and certainly the origin of the myths.


  4. The archaeological evidence for the history of the Abbey contrasts somewhat with the prestige bestowed upon it in medieval legend. Much of the legend and some of the history of Glastonbury Abbey originates with William of Malmesbury’s De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae (‘Enquiry into the Antiquity of the Church of Glastonbury’), a work begun somewhere between 1129 and 1135. When William of Malmesbury wrote his ‘Enquiry’, Glastonbury Abbey was on the point of ruin, with its buildings in a dilapidated condition and the monks barely having enough to live on.


    • Regina, Great historical information. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff in the ancient accounts. But, it’s great fun to read and ponder them.


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