Glastonbury is best known for the myths and legends surrounding both Glastonbury Tor and Glastonbury Abbey
Located in the English West Country county of Somerset, some 20 miles (35 km) south of Bristol. Glastonbury Tor, a prominent hill rising up from the surrounding flat landscape, and Glastonbury Abbey, which together have made the town a thriving centre for mystical, New Age, alternative spirituality; and the annual Glastonbury Festival, a summer music festival that has been likened to the equivalent of an ongoing Woodstock music festival.
Glastonbury has been described as a New Age community which attracts people with New Age and Neopagan beliefs, and is notable for myths and legends often related to Glastonbury Tor, concerningJoseph 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.
Glastonbury is also the reputed site of Arthur’s grave which was found around 1190. It is said a Welsh or Breton bard divulged its location to Henry II, telling that he was buried in the monk’s graveyard at Glastonbury between two pyramids. Excavation revealed a cross with “Arthur” inscribed on it and a hollowed out log coffin with the bones of a tall man and a smaller person presumably Guinevere. Modern reexcavation found that there was an actual early buriel but the cross cannot be found.
Glastonbury is notable for myths and legends concerning Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur
Mythology and Legends – 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.
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. According to some versions of the Arthurian legend, Lancelot retreated to Glastonbury Abbey in penance following Arthur’s death. 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. The remains were later moved and were lost during the Reformation.
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.
The original Holy Thorn was a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages but was chopped down during the English Civil War. A replacement thorn was planted in 1951 to mark the Festival of Britain on Wearyall hill. 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. The legend also says that as a child, Jesus had visited Glastonbury along with Joseph. The legend probably was encouraged during the medieval period when religious relics and pilgrimages were profitable business for abbeys.
The Legend of King Arthur – Locations & Activities