Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Glastonbury ~ The Ancient Isle of Avalon #OurAuthorGang #Arthurian #Glastonbury

In my last post I talked about how Arthurian Legend began with the story of Merlin. Today, I wanted to look at an Arthurian location that I am sure you have heard of...

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?”

Jerusalem by William Blake

Glastonbury Tor

There is something about Glastonbury (the fabled Isle of Avalon), she gets under your skin and stays there. I have heard many accounts of people coming from all over the world to climb the Tor, or to walk around the romantic ruin that is Glastonbury Abbey. This draw to Glastonbury isn't a new thing, though. People have been doing it for thousands of years. The reason? Well, there are many. But for today's post, I want to look at some specific Arthurian reasons as to why Glastonbury was a place of pilgrimage in the past.

Glastonbury Abbey

Joseph of Arimathea and Glastonbury.

“Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
Luke 23:50-53

Joseph of Arimathea's story can be found in all four gospels of the Bible.  But that is not the only place we can find him. You can also find him in Glastonbury, England!

 Joseph of Arimathea by Pieto Perugino

Joseph of Arimathea — A British Story?

According to the Glastonbury — I am going to call it Legend — Joseph was a wealthy merchant who travelled to Cornwall to purchase tin. On one of these trips to Britain, Jesus came with him — hence Blake's famous opening line in Jerusalem.

A pilgrim traveling to Glastonbury Abbey

But Joseph wasn’t just a merchant, he was also fundamental in bringing Christianity to Britain — Christianity indeed came to Britain, but the jury is out on whether Joseph had anything to do with it. Not only did Joseph bring Christianity to Britain, but he also built a Christian Church  - in fact, he built the very first Christian Church in the whole world, and he built that Church in Glastonbury.

In c1340 John of Glastonbury - a Benedictine monk and chronicler - assembled The History of Glastonbury Abbey. Just to put this time in context we are in the reign of Edward III — the Abbey has a few years yet before Henry VIII Reformation and Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541). 
Now Glastonbury, at the time was a place of pilgrimage. Not only did people come to the Abbey because of their interest in Joseph of Arimathea, but they also came because of the Arthurian connection.

Glastonbury Abbey

Joseph of Arimathea and King Arthur

John stated that when Joseph came to Britain, he brought with him two vessels. One of these vessels contained the blood of Jesus and the other his sweat. John also claimed that Arthur was descended from Joseph and he had the pedigree to prove it!

There was no reason to doubt John’s words. Years later, after the Dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey, Elizabeth I, told the Roman Catholic Bishops that the Church of England pre-dated the Roman Church in England because of Joseph's missionary work. 

The "Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth I (c. 1575)

Over time, the version of events changed. Instead of two vessels, Joseph brought one, and this vessel became known as The Holy Grail. It is said that when Joseph visited Glastonbury, he hid the Grail in a well  — which is why the water has a reddish hue to it. You can visit that well today, and if you ever find yourself in Glastonbury, I recommend that you do, The Chalice Gardens are beautiful to relax in on a summers day.

The Chalice Well Gardens — note the red spring water which is caused by Iron Oxide, but in all fairness, it does taste like blood!

Joseph, not only brought Jesus and the Church over to Britain, but he settled in Glastonbury too. He was given some land by King Arviragus. Or so they say...!

The Glastonbury Thorn

But it doesn't end there. When Joseph visited Glastonbury he thrust his staff into the ground at a place called Wearyall Hill — then, something amazing happened. A thorn tree took root and sprouted from the staff. A miracle indeed. Interestingly, a budded branch of The Glastonbury Thorn is presented to the Queen once a year at Christmas — A British tradition.

The Glastonbury Thorn
Is the story true? The monks at Glastonbury Abbey were certainly pragmatic enough to know that a good story would draw in the crowds, and an Abbey the size of the one in Glastonbury certainly needed funding. It is worth remembering that Arthurian legend wasn't Arthurian legend back then — it was Arthurian fact. Throw into the mix Joseph of Arimathea, and those monks were on to a winner.


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Jerusalem by William Blake

Joseph of Arimathea by Pieto Perugi, Wikipedia

 The "Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth I (c. 1575), Wikepedia

The Glastonbury Thorn, Wikepedia

The Chalice Well Gardens ~ Pixabay

All other images are my own.