Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Glastonbury Tor

Celtic: Ynys Gutrin | “Isle of Glass”
Ynys Wydryn

Glastonbury Tor is an iconic hill and historical site located in Glastonbury, Somerset, England.

It is a prominent hill that stands about 518 feet (158 meters) above sea level. The Tor is made of layers of limestone and clay, creating a distinctive terraced appearance. It is constructed on top of a grassed-terraced volcanic rock. The summit of the Tor offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, including Glastonbury Abbey.

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.

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 stronghold 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.

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 hollow. Extensive caving has not been undertaken to date as many of the chambers have over the years collapsed.

Glastonbury Tor | History

Neolithic and Bronze Age Periods
Archaeological evidence suggests that Glastonbury Tor was used by humans as early as the Neolithic period, around 4000 BC. There are indications of a settlement on the terraced sides of the Tor during the Iron Age.

Medieval Monastic Presence
In the eighth century, Glastonbury Abbey was founded at the foot of the Tor. The abbey became one of the richest and most influential in England, and Glastonbury Tor itself gained spiritual significance. St. Michael’s Church was constructed on the summit during the fourteenth century.

Dissolution of the Monasteries
In 1539, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by King Henry VIII, Glastonbury Abbey was dissolved, and St. Michael’s Church on the Tor was abandoned. The church was partially dismantled, and the lead from its roof was likely melted down.

St. Michael’s Tower
At the summit of Glastonbury Tor stands the roofless St. Michael’s Tower, a medieval structure that has become an iconic landmark. The tower has undergone various phases of construction and repair over the centuries. St. Michael is considered a Christian archangel and is associated with protection and spiritual guidance. Originally monks, some say a warlord, built a church or fortification there in the Middle Ages but this was destroyed by an earthquake or landslide on 11 September, 1275.

Modern Spiritual Significance
In the twentieth century, Glastonbury Tor gained popularity in New Age and spiritual circles. It is often seen as a place of energy, and some believe that ley lines converge at the Tor. This has contributed to Glastonbury’s reputation as a center for alternative and esoteric beliefs.

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

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.

Physical topography in Britain and elsewhere