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Glastonbury Tor, The Lost Tomb of King Arthur And The Isle of Avalon Myth

A Celestial And Sacred Place


Like a formidable prehistoric animal, Glastonbury Tor stands 160 meters above the Somerset Plain. There lies the ruins of the famous St. Michael's Church and it is at the same time one of the most mysterious sites in England. Was Glastonbury the center of a fertility cult, based on legends of the goddess of Earth? Or is it the legendary Isle of Avalon, where is located the tomb of King Arthur ?

Avalon, kingdom of the dead

Avalon Glastonbury

Like Silbury Hill, Glastonbury Hill has a system of eroded and weathered terraces that are still clearly visible. Since ever, these paths were thought to be a gigantic labyrinth, traced according to an ancestral and magical motif. If that is true, then Glastonbury was 4,000 or 5,000 years ago a place of worship comparable to Stonehenge. 2,000 years ago, the sea reached the foot of the hill and encircled it like an island. Later, the sea retreated and formed a huge lake. The hill was then called Ynys-witrin, which means Island of Glass.

The name Avalon, derived from the name of demi-god Afallon (or Afallach) who reigns over the Underworld, also comes from a Celtic legend, according to which Avalon would be an enchanted place ... but pagan. It is therefore not a coincidence that the church that surmounts this hill bears the name of archangel Saint Michael: the same one who fought against the forces of darkness. Avalon, the junction point between earth and sea, was the place of the dead, the place of passage from one world to another.

The history of the abbey

Glastonbury abbey

The plain of Somerset was conquered in the 7th century by Saxons converted to Christianity during the reign of King Ine of Wessex, one of the main figures in the history of the abbey. He would have built a stone church, whose foundations are in the western part of the nave. In the 10th century, the church was later enlarged by the abbot of Glastonbury, Saint Dunstan, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. Then, in 1066, England was conquered by the Normans, and Turstin, the first Norman abbot, had the abbey enlarged, which extended from the cemetery to the old Saxon church. In 1086, Glastonbury was the richest abbey in the country, but barely a hundred years later, in 1184, it was destroyed by fire. At Christmas in the year 1213, a second church was inaugurated, which became, until the fourteenth century, the second abbey of the country, after Westminster, and whose abbot was a powerful man. In 1536, during the reign of Henry VIII, England had more than eight thousand abbeys. When Rome refused to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, he proclaimed himself, by the Act of Supremacy, supreme head of the Anglican Church. All abbeys were then dissolved, and the monks and nuns were hunted down. The treasures returned to the crown and Glastonbury went downhill.

The tomb of King Arthur

King Arthur's stela Glastonbury

One of the greatest mysteries of Glastonbury relates to the legend of King Arthur. From 1190, monks claimed to have discovered his mortal remains, as well as that of his wife Guinevere. The coffin, carved from a tree trunk, bore the following Latin inscription on a lead cross: Hic iacet sepultus incltedus arturius in insula avalonia ("This is King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon"). In 1278, during a visit of King Edward I, these bones were transferred to a black marble tomb in front of the main altar of the abbey and stayed there until 1536. A mysterious black knight with incandescent eyes would have begun to haunt the abbey and would have erased all traces of the mythical king.

Glastonbury legends and the Holy Grail

At the foot of Glastonbury hill is an old fountain, whose waters, reddened by the iron oxide of surrounding rocks, which explains it's nickname of Blood Fountain, resonate like a beating heart. According to legend, this fountain was built by druids to house the Cup of Christ, that is to say the Holy Grail, which Joseph of Arimathea brought back to England after having collected the blood shed by Jesus during Crucifixion. According to the legends of Glastonbury and Somerset, Jesus came to Glastonbury in his youth along with Joseph of Arimathea in order to build an early church there. That's why Joseph would then come back. The Holy Chalice would be buried under the hill, not far from the entrance leading to the Other World. Some time later, a spring rises in this place. It was called Chalice Well and its waters would procure eternal youth. It is the Holy Grail that Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table brought back to Avalon.

The goddess of Glastonbury

For writer Kathy Jones, the Glastonbury Mound is a worship center dedicated to the goddess of the Earth and is even a gigantic sculpture in her honor. Rhiannon, Venus, Aphrodite: The Goddess of Earth and Fertility is known by many names. Glastonbury would be a hollow hill, pierced by caves, where trolls and elves would venerate it. The mound consists of a seven-level labyrinth, which is found engraved on the rocks of Tintagel in Cornwall. The labyrinth is the symbol of the goddess of the Earth for North American Hopi Indians. There is also a representation of the goddess of Fertility on the dolmen of Luffang, near Carnac. The entrance to the labyrinth would be at the western end of the mound and go down through the hill to the heart of the goddess.

Glastonbury's Temple of the Stars

Glastonbury's Temple of the Stars

Within a radius of 16 kilometers is the Glastonbury zodiac, a sort of natural park of astrological signs made up of woods, rivers, streams, paths, localities and plains. This vast natural temple combines astrology, the legend of King Arthur and New Age philosophy. To recognize it, one must, indeed, use a lot of imagination, because this park is based more on geographical names and legends than on historical facts: Arthur was Sagittarius, his wife Guinevere, Virgo, Merlin, Capricorn, Lancelot, Lion; Glastonbury is in the constellation Aquarius, represented by a Phoenix, the new springing from the old, the well of the Chalice represents the beak of the bird and the abbey, the fortress of the Grail. It was in 1929 that sculptor Katherine Maltwood discovered in nature these astrological signs. Professor of visual arts, Marie Caine then filmed them from an airplane to draw the map. For Mary Caine, these signs also make up an immense face of the Messiah.

Glastonbury remains a magical place, whose energy is felt everywhere. In the twelfth century, historian William of Malmesbury (v. 1080-v. 1143) wrote that "Glastonbury formed on earth a sacred and heavenly place".

The labyrinth, symbol of the soul

Spaces that intersect and intertwine endlessly and whose visitor must find the way out: in all times and in almost every culture, labyrinths are considered as the symbol of self-knowledge. The seven degrees or rings that compose them can be compared to the seven chakras (main centers of energy of man) or to the different stages of physical, mental or spiritual development. With the legend of the Minotaur, half-man and half-bull monster locked in a labyrinth, these constructions have acquired a more fatal meaning. According to Kathy Jones, the feminine and fruitful symbolism of the labyrinth, as a path of self-knowledge, ends at this time and is then replaced by a more threatening symbolism characteristic of patriarchy. The labyrinth represents our destiny: we can not change it, but we can take new paths to continue living.