A backpacking trip around Europe during the Summer of 2011 allowed me to explore these magical historic ruins. The Glastonbury Abbey was a Monastery founded in Glastonbury Somerset, England around 712 C.E. and is one of Britain’s scheduled monuments and grade I listed buildings. It is a popular tourist spot especially amongst pilgrimages to Glastonbury. It was said to have been the richest monastery in the country according to the English Domesday Book 1086 C.E. It is also said to be the burial grounds for Edgar the Peaceful, Edmund I, Edmund Ironside, and King Arthur.
A glass works was founded on the site during the 7th century. The Danes destroyed the area during the 9th century. Archaeology shows it was expanded in the 10th century. In 960 C.E. Dunstan became the Archbishop of Canterbury and in 967 King Edmund was buried here. By 1016 Edmund Ironside was buried here as well. The Glastonbury Canal was erected in the area during the 10th century and linked to the Abbey via the River Brue in order to transport stones to build the abbey, transport produce, grains, fish, and wine from the abbey’s properties. The 11th century saw rise of the abbey becoming central to the large water based transportation network from the canals and channels made connecting the Meare estate with the Bristol channel. 1066 C.E. the Abbey was in its prime for wealth and Turstin the Norman Abbot expanded the church adding an eastern segment to the east of the older Saxon church and further from the ancient cemetery. This was drawn back together by the abbot Herlewin constructing a larger church. By 1077 C.E. Thurstin was dismissed whence his armed retainers killed numerous monks by the High altar. In 1184 C.E. it was completely destroyed by a fire and then rebuilt during the 14th century. The Abbey controlled most of the surrounding lands and was responsible for the drainage projects on the Somerset Levels. By the late 15th century a Inn called the “George Hotel and Pilgrim’s Inn” was built for visitors to the Abbey. With the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 C.E. all 850 monasteries, nunneries, and friaries in England were dissolved and all 15000 monks and nuns dispersed, lands and buildings sold off or leased to new lay occupants. 1539 C.E. All the silver, gold, and remaining assets were stripped from the abbey. It was suppressed by King Henry VIII during the Dissolutioin of the Monasteries and Richard Whiting the last abbot was hung, drawn, and quartered atop the Glastonbury Tor in 1539 C.E. as a traitor.
Legends of King Arthur surround Glastonbury as many believe it to have been Avalon with links suggesting the medieval monks of the Abbey having a connection to Arthur and that the abbey was founded by Joseph of Arimathea during the 1st century. Archaeological evidence suggests the abbey was founded by Britons early 7th century C.E. even though Roman and Saxons had occupied the site through its course in history. Many myths and legends place it as the setting for King Arthur tales and the Holy Grail. Archaeology tells us that Glastonbury fell into the hands of the Saxons during the Battle of Peonnum 658 C.E. as far west as the River Parrett and allowed the British Abbot Bregored to remain in power during the time. Bregored died in 669 C.E. and replaced by Berhthwald, an Anglo-Saxon abbott for several years.
Legend has it that King Arthur’s tomb as well as Queen Guinevere are buried beneath the High Altar. This was recorded in 1191 C.E. by Giraldus Cambrensis in the De Principis instructione where the Abbott henry de Sully discovered a massive hollow oak trunk containing two skeletons 16 feet beneath the altar, above it under the covering stone was a leaden cross with unmistakable inscription “Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia” (Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon). Archaeologists and Historians claim it was merely a publicity stunt at the time to raise funds to repair the Abbey from the fire.
The ruins were stripped of lead and dressed stones hauled away to construct other buildings and the site was given to the Duke of Somerset, Edward Seymour by Edward VI. Seymour established a colony of Protestant Dutch weavers on the site. 1559 C.E. Elizabeth I granted the site to Peter Carew posting it in private holdings until the 20th century, stripping the ruins of more stones leaving only the Abbot’s Kitchen which was converted to a Quaker meeting house. The remainder of the site remained a quarry. The Ancient Monuments Protection Act of 1882 halted any more destruction to the site. The Bath and Wells Diocesan Trust purchased the lands and ruins in 1908 C.E. This was passed on to the Glastonbury Abbey Trust. By 1924 numerous pilgrimages to the Ruins began making it a tourist destination.
An occurence of the Glastonbury Thorn, a species subset of the Common Hawthorn was found on site. This was mentioned in the 16th century manuscript “Lyfe of Joseph of Arimathea” to having flowered twice in a year once normal on “old wood” in Spring and once on “new wood” in the winter. The tree is believed to have been propagated by graftings and cuttings with the cultivar “Biflora” or “Praecox” creating a custom of sending a budded branch to the Queen at Christmas initiated by james Montague the Bishop of Bath and Wells during James I’s reign. Trees have survived from earlier grafts including two other Holy Thorns on the grounds of St. John’s Church.