One of the most infamous landmarks of Glastonbury is the Tor. It is extremely popular from the Arthurian legends. The Tor is a tall hill that ascends over 158 meters from Glastonbury and hosts panoramic views of the English countryside, viewing the three counties of Somerset, Dorset, and Wiltshire. During the legendary Isles of Avalon, this would have been the highest point on the isles. Geologically the Tor rises from Lower lias clays and limestones from the Middle and Upper Lias to a deposit of hard midford sand at the cap 521 feet and called the “Tor Burr”. The Tor has a conical shape made up of horizontal bands of limestone, clays, and capped with sandstone. As erosional forces dug away with limestone and clays, the sandstone lasts resisting erosion creating steep slopes. Historically, this Tor would have towered as an island above the flooded Somerset Levels, but as the levels were drained over the ages for agriculture and other uses, it is now a hill blended ito the landscape. The terraces on the slopes date to Medieval times where the hillside was one of the few dry locations where locals could farm and graze animals. The Tor is believed to have been a sacred site of pilgrimage for over 10,000 years and still used today. It is believed to be a gateway to the Otherworld. Lithics and other artifacts show presence of humans here for thousands of years.
It was said that Joseph of Arimathea in 63 C.E. founded a settlement here. Archaeologically the earliest found was a 6th century settlement, the earliest found in Glastonbury and many believe was the first Christian community in the area founded by Joseph. Evidence from the 6th century was found during excavations of 1964-1966 that exposed occupation during this time, and a second phase of occupation from 900-1100 C.E. by the finding of a head of a cross that were probably monks cells cut into the rock on the summit, a tradition of a monastic site on the Tor was confirmed by the 1243 charter granting permission for a fair at the Monastery of St. Michael at this location.
During the 8th century, the Great Abbey was built on the site of the present abbey ruins in the 8th century and then rebuilt becoming the wealthiest abbey in Britain, but destroyed in 1539 by the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
In the 13th century it is said the first Church on the Tor to be built was St. Michael’s Church in the charter of 1243 C.E.
These ruins are what you see today the most notable part of which is St. Michael’s Tower. These ruins are from the 2nd church replacing the original that was destroyed in the 1275 C.E. earthquake. This second church lasted until 1539 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The earliest legend after Joseph of Arimeathea is the mid-thirteenth century story of St. Patrick coming from Ireland and becoming the leader of the hermits here. He was said to have discovered an ancient Oratory in ruins atop the Tor after climbing through dense woods.
In the historic era, this is the location where Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, and some of his monks were hung.
- “Glastonbury Tor, one of the most famous and sacred landmarks in the West Country. From the summit at 158 metres, you can get amazing views over three counties – Somerset, Dorset, and Wiltshire. What is the tor? “Tor” is a West Country word of Celtic origin meaning hill. The conical shape of Glastonbury Tor is natural – due to its rocks. It is made up of horizontal bands of clays and limestone with a cap of hard sandstone. The sandstone resists erosion, but the clays and limestone have worn away, resulting in the steep slopes. A historic landscape: Before modern drainage, the tor in winter would have towered as an island above the flooded Somerset Levels. The terraces on the slopes date back to medieval times when the hillside was one of the few dry places where people could grow crops and graze animals. A place of pilgrimage: The tor has been a place of pilgrimage for over 10,000 years. Many thousands of people still visit each year, some for its links with religion, legends and beliefs, and others because it is such a renowned landmark. History of the Tower: on the summit is St. Michael’s Tower, part of a 14th century church. It was built to replace a previous church which had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1275. The second church lasted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. At this time, the tor was the scene of the hanging of Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury. The Tor was the site of a 6th century settlement, the earliest yet found in Glastonbury. Some believe this was the first Christian community in the area, said to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea in AD 63. 8th Century: The great Abbey: A stone church was built on the site of the present abbey ruins in the 8th century. It was rebuilt and became one of the wealthiest abbeys in Britain, but was destroyed in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. 13th century: A church on the tor – The first written record on St. Michael’s Church on the tor is in a charter of 1243. The building was destroyed in an earthquake in 1275. 14th century- St. Michael’s Tower – in the 14th century, a new church was built on the tor, which survived until the Dissolution. St. Michael’s tower is all that remains. Glastonbury Tor rises from the Lower lias clays and limestones through the Middle and Upper Lias to a deposit of hard midford sand on the cap, 521 ft. high known locally as Tor Burr. This is more resistant to erosion than the lower levels making the slopes steep and unstable. These steep sculptured slopes, rising dramatically from the isle of Avalon in the flat somerset levels, have encouraged much speculation about the origin of the Tor in legend. The earliest reference is a mid-thirteenth century story of St. Patrick’s return from Ireland in which he became a leader of hermits at glastonbury and discovered an ancient ruined oratory on the summit after climbing through a dense wood, scattered fines of prehistoric, roman, and later objects suggest the Tor was always used by man, but evidence for actual occupation from the 6th AD was uncovered in the excavations of 1964-6, a second phase of occupation between 900-1100 was distinguished by the head of a cross and what were probably Christian monk’s cells cut into the rock on the summit, the tradition of a monastic site on the Tor is confirmed by a charter of 1243 granting permission for a fair at the monastery of St. Michael there. The present tower though later modified, is essentially 15th century and is associated with the second of two major churches which stood on the summit. The second one was probably built after the destructive earthquake of 1275. The monastic church of St. Michael closely associated with the Great Abbey in the town below fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 when Richard WHiting the last abbot of Glastonbury was hanged on the Tor.” ~ information signs on the Tor, Glastonbury, England.