During my 2011 and 2012 trips to Glastonbury I spent some time wandering around the remains, ruins, and legends of the Beckery Chapel. It is the legendary tromping grounds of King Arthur. Several years ago, Archaeologists found seven skeletons with dates of 5th-6th century C.E. at the same location that in the 1960’s exposed over 50 other human bodies. It is now believed to be the monastic cemetery of the Glastonbury Abbey and town. Whether or not King Arthur resided here during his legend or not, it is a impressive historical cache. Of course it wasn’t until Geoffrey of Monmouth’s publications claims of King Arthur that brought attention to this place since the mid-12th century, and scholars believe it was hoaxed by the local monks to attract tourism dollars, attention, and a come-back to the church. England saw the ruling Angevin kings claiming descent off of Arthur, and many of England’s rulers claimed to be his true heir. The revelations of the early monasticism of Glastonbury and that which surrounds King Arthur made it a central place in the history of Christianity in England for over 1500 years. It is this hill that is believed to be the central location of the Arthurian legends. This is where Joseph of Arimathea disembarked after his journey from the Holy Land, planted his staff into the ground and gave birth to the legend of the Glastonbury Thorn. His staff turned into this thorn species, sprouting from his staff, and the name of the hill adapted to cover this story as “Wirral Hill” from etymology of when Joseph and his group climbed the hill they were all “weary” and therefore birthed the name “Wearyall”, or so the legend goes. As the thorn is said to have originated from the Middle East, it is believed to been spread to the area from a Crusader, and/or his staff made of its wood. For many years this thorn was celebrated atop Wearyall Hill. During the dissolution of the Abbeys, and destruction of Glastonbury Abbey, the mythos was moved to this chapel and hill. The most revered version of the thorn was re-planted atop the hill during the 1951 Festival of Britain, but in December of 2010, someone decapitated the holy thorn causing a local tragedy and killing the plant. A replacement met the same fate as did two other saplings planted in town destroyed. the only remaining are on the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey and St. John’s Church. “Beckery” is said by some to mean “Little Ireland” to refer to the monks crossing the sea from Ireland to be at Beckery and the Abbey when St. Patrick was the Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey. Others say “Beckery” referred to the site as a Bee Keeper’s Island. Other myths claim the area was once a site of a Druidic Women’s College, but no archaeology exists to support these legends. Many believe the site was pledged to the Irish Saint Bridgid who supposedly visited the site in 488 C.E. to the community and chapel that existed there. It combined Celtic Paganism with Christianity. To those in Glastonbury, Brighid is called “Bride” and is central to the old settlement on Bride’s Mound. The name of Beckery is first recorded in a charter dated 670 C.E. by the Saxon King Cenwealdh when he gave the site to Glastonbury Abbey. References to “Bride’s Mound” seem relatively modern being labelled sometime around the excavations thoughthe area has been called Bride’s Hill for some time and Bride’s Hay or Bridget’s Island. A 1628 entry in the rental of the Cavendish estates called it “Bridhill” ‘neare Backrey mill”. This is the old Baily’s building at Bride’s Mill. 1799 sale called it “Bride’s Hill in the Occupation of Robert Bath.”
In the Arthurian Legends, the Grail Romance “Prose perceval” and “y seint Grael” – the High History of the Holy Grail had claims to have been written here with the stories archived in the Glastonbury Abbey’s Library. It describes a hermit spread out on the altar with the Virgin Mary and the Devil fighting for his soul. It is believed John of Glastonbury – one of Arthur’s chroniclers having access to the High History inspired him to locate the chapel at Beckery whose doors were guarded by two hands holding flaming swords and is where Mary gave Arthur a crystal cross. The Hill is supposed to be the location where the knight Bedivere casts Excalibur back into the waters after King Arthur is wounded during the final battle and is believed to be the bridge over the River Brue at this hill and is called “Pomparles”. It is also the chapel where King Arthur received a vision of Mary Magdelene and the baby Jesus. Were these waters Bride’s Sluice or Well? or the lost Blue Spring?
The site has shown use since Neolithic times through the Iron Age and the Roman period.The Chapel is a holy shrine dating over 1500 years of age to late Roman or early Saxon occupation of the site. The site was a small island off of Glastonbury surrounded by wetlands and cut off from the general villagers. There were rudimentary buildings made of wattle and daub at the time. There were no original stone buildings. The site is believed to have been abandoned after Vikings invaded in the 9th century during their attack of Somerset. It was in 789 C.E. that the Vikings began attacking England. The site fell in disuse and slowly dissolved into agricultural use, the ruins of the chapel were visible until the late 1790s. There is suggestion that the land may have continued to be used as a shrine since prehistoric times, Christian sites built atop old Pagan sites. William of Malmesbury wrote 1129 C.E. an Anglo-Saxon charter of 670 including Beckery island as one of the seven islands granted to Glastonbury Abbey by the Saxon King Cenwealth – the seven islands were the Isles of Avalon, Beckery, Godney, Martinsea, Meare, Panborough, and Nyland. Papal harter of 1168 claimed Beckery as the first of the islands of the the Glastonbury Abbey Estates. It is here that it was believed that St. Bridget visited in 488 C.E. from Ireland and stayed for several years on the island of “Beokery” where there was a chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene that was later re-dedicated to St. Bridget.
- Friends of Bride’s Mound – http://www.friendsofbridesmound.com/legends.html
- Geomancy.org – http://www.geomancy.org/listmessenger/public/archive.php?view=html&id=96:346