Glastonbury Tor

Celtic: Ynys Gutrin ('Isle of Glass'), Ynys Wydryn

A hill in Glastonbury that shows trace of occupation in Roman times.

A man-made, labyrinthine spiral footpath leads to the top of the hill, but be prepared for a fairly steep climb. Once at the top there is usually always some form of a brisk breeze any time of the year. The top commands excellent views which can obviously best be appreciated on a clear day. Thousands of people per year walk to the top of the Tor, many mysteriously drawn to do so, probably as the symbol of the Tor and the hill on which it stands has come to embody for many the mystical / religious / spiritual / historical qualities that Glastonbury offers to all its visitors. The hill itself was also man-made, according to some, and should thus be considered alongside such places as Silbury Hill.

The word "tor" means a hill or rocky peak particularly associated with Devon and Cornwall, and is also believed to be based on the Gaelic word "tor" meaning bulging hill. The tower that stands at the summit is all that remains of the Church of Saint Michael, a fourteenth-century church that replaced a much earlier building.Celtic hermits occupied cells on the summit and slopes of the hill, and traces of a prehistoric settlement have also been found. It seems natural for the Celts, and later the Christians, to have maintained the sanctity of the Tor, for the survival of a few ancient stones around the Tor indicates that the hill also had a religious significanse to the megalithic peoples.

This Tor is located just outside Glastonbury Town, Somerset, and is constructed on top of grassed-terraced volcanic rock, with a height of approximately 159 Metres [522 ft]. On the top stands a tower, which is the remains of a church. Originally monks, some say a warlord, built a church or fortification there in the Middle Ages but this was destroyed by an earthquake/landslide on 11 September A.D, 1275.

The archaeologist Philip Raht strongly believes that it was originally a monastic settlement, a conclusion he came to after three seasons excavating the top area of the Tor. The tower that stands there now was built as a replacement in the AD 1360's and dedicated to St. Michael [Soldier of God and victor of Paganism].

In the recent 1960's excavations suggested that a sixth-century fortress or at least a stronghold stood on the site of the Tor, which for some supports another legend connected with the Tor, that it was the location of the stronghold belonging to King Melwas of the Summer Region, who is credited in one of the many Arthurian legends as the man who abducted Guenevere.

The Tor has many legends associated with it, and include it being a strong hold of King Arthur, guarding the entrance to the Underworld known as Annwfn. Another legend tells of the Tor being the home of Gwynn ap Nudd, Lord of the Dead (who appears as Arthur's warrior in Culhwch and Olwen), and is thus regarded as a portal between the world of the living and the Otherworld. In later folk legends he has been referred to as the The Faery King along with another legend when Avallach was deemed to be the Lord of the Underworld. During the twelfth-century many folk tales were written down for the first time and told about the top of the Tor being a place of faery visions and magic.

There have over the centuries been offered many theories that the hill itself is / was hollow and that this in turn has led to the legends that it was the entrance to the underworld or the place of the Sleeping Lord. Some scholars have even suggested that St. Collen himself had his hermitage on the slopes of the Tor by a spring. At the base of the Tor is what is known as the Chalice Well, where according to legend Joseph of Arimathea threw the Chalice. It is argued by Messrs.

Miller & Broadhurst [AD 1989] that the valley between the Tor and Chalice Hill had two springs Blood Spring and White Spring which may have joined in the area now known as Chalice Well Gardens. Chambers that lie towards the back of the spring have been tentatively explored by cavers who have found evidence to indicate that this may have in fact been another entrance point to the Tor, which lends supports to the legends that the Tor hill itself is/was hollow. Extensive caving has not been undertaken to date as many of the chambers have over the years collapsed.

Dion Fortune a leading occultist also lived at the base of the Tor and believed it to be place of great Celtic Otherworld connections.

On Weary-All Hill also located near the Tor, legend has it that it was here Joseph of Arimathea thrust his staff into the ground where upon it took root and grew into the 'Holy Thorn' tree which only blossomed at Christmas. This type of tree is known as Crataegus oxyacantha. Cuttings from this thorn tree still grow in and around the Glastonbury area and flower at Christmas and Easter, although the original was cut down during Cromwell's reign. Christmas blossom is cut from a holy thorn that stands in the grounds of St. Johns Church and sent to the Queen to be placed on the breakfast table at Buckingham Palace on Christmas Day, a custom believed to date back to Queen Anne.

See also
Glastonbury Abbey and Church | The Legend of King Arthur
Joseph of Arimathea in Glastonbury | The Legend of King Arthur
Glastonbury Thorn | The Legend of King Arthur
King Arthur and Guenevere's grave | The Legend of King Arthur
Saint Collen | The Legend of King Arthur
Glastonbury Zodiac | The Legend of King Arthur