NIGHTBRINGER | The Arthurian Encyclopedia


Glasenbury, Glashenburye, Glassthenbery, Glastonbery, Glastynbury, Glestingaburg

Glastonbury is a small town located in Somerset, England. This is probably one of the most famous, if not the most famous, mystical sites in the world. It has connections with The AbbeyGlastonbury Zodiac, the intersection of Ley Lines and Earth Energy Lines to name but a few. As well as many pilgrims and holiday visitors from around the world, Glastonbury also has a large concentration of people with alternative beliefs.

Glastonbury is often referred to as the Isle of Avalon in the romance Perlesvaus, shrouded in mystery. It has a magical place, and the home of countless legends, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Christian, and even today it is a magical, mystical place.

Here the Archbishop of Canterbury became a hermit after defying Mordred. Here BedivereLancelot, and other knights joined the former Archbishop as hermits at Arthur’s grave. All this is at the end of Malory’s book, but there must have been enough at Glastonbury already to attract the Archbishop.

According to a tradition not found in Malory, Joseph of Arimathea planted a flowering thorn tree here, which bloomed in winter until it was uprooted by Oliver Cromwell. You can still see trees in Glastonbury reputed to be descendants of the original flowering thorn.

All indications point to Glastonbury’s having been a Pagan holy place before Christianization. Glastonbury Tor, for instance, is a high, conical hill with an ancient pathway to the top. As part of a ritual, the Tor was to be ascended in tiers, the celebrants walking around each tier alternately clockwise or counter-clockwise before climbing to the next. The town itself is reported to have been surrounded by marshland/water possibly dating to around the third or fourth-century BC. Because of this marshland, it is argued by many, that this must be the mythical place known in Arthurian lore as The Isle of Avalon.

At the bottom end of the High Street is the entrance to Glastonbury Abbey. In 1191, the monks said they had discovered Arthur’s and Guenevere’s tomb. The “discovery” was reported by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) in De Principis Instructione a few years later.

The identification between Glastonbury and the island of Avalon may have existed prior to the monks “discovery,” but Giraldus’ report certainly reinforced the link. Glastonbury can be considered an island in the sense that it is surrounded by marshes. Giraldus further states that the name of the town derives from “Glass Island,” though it more likely comes from Glaestings, a family name. The “Glass Island” assertion is found elsewhere, and the evocative nature of the name probably supported the Avalonian identification.

Aside from the identification with Avalon, Glastonbury appears in Arthurian romance as part of the kingdom of Melwas, who kidnapped Guenevere; and as one of Arthur’s courts. One manuscript of the English Arthour and Merlin names it as Ambrosius’ burial place, which in most texts is at Stonehenge. The name seems to appear alomst exclusively in legends written in England and Wales; most French texts, including the Vulgate romances, do not mention the town at all, using an Ancient Chapel to take the place of Glastonbury as Arthur’s burial site.

Legend also says that Glastonbury is connected with the returning of Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake, though in this instance it is a river and not a lake into which Excalibur is said to have been thrown. On the main road between Street and Glastonbury lies the Pomparles Bridge (Pons Perilis) over the River Brue. It is from this bridge that Excalibur was said to have been thrown and, as it tumbled towards the waters of the river, a hand reached out and caught it, drawing it into safekeeping beneath the water. Another story links Arthur with the little chapel on the island of Beckery (now unfortunately located adjacent to the town sewage works). Told to go to the chapel by an angel, Arthur saw Mary and the infant Jesus there.

The quest for the Holy Grail would have involved Arthur at Glastonbury. One supposed hiding place of the Grail was at the bottom of a well that is known as the Chalice Well. Arthur has also been associated with the Glastonbury Zodiac, being identified as Sagittarius, while the zodiac itself has been regarded as the Round Table.

Glastonbury | 0 to the 9th century AD

Prehistoric and Roman Periods
Glastonbury has evidence of human occupation dating back to the Neolithic period, with archaeological finds suggesting a prehistoric settlement on the site.

The Roman occupation of Britain brought Roman influence to the area, including the establishment of roads and fortifications. The Fosse Way, a major Roman road, passed relatively close to Glastonbury, connecting Exeter to Lincoln. The strategic location of Glastonbury Tor may have made it a signaling beacon or lookout point for the Romans.

Archaeological evidence, including coins and pottery fragments, suggests some level of Roman activity and trade in the region. While there may not be substantial evidence of larger Roman settlements in Glastonbury itself, the presence of Roman artifacts indicates interaction and trade with Roman-occupied areas.

Early Christian Influence
As the Roman Empire declined in the early fifth century, early Christian influences began to spread through Britain, including the Glastonbury area. The introduction of Christianity to the British Isles had an impact on Glastonbury. According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea, a biblical figure associated with the burial of Jesus, visited Glastonbury. It is said that he brought the Holy Grail and planted his staff on Wearyall Hill, which miraculously grew into the Glastonbury Thorn.

Glastonbury Abbey | 7th century onward
The foundation of Glastonbury Abbey is traditionally attributed to King Ine of Wessex in the early seventh century. The abbey’s growth led to it becoming a major religious center and played a significant role in medieval English history. Historical records, including those of the chronicler Bede, mention the existence of a church or monastery at Glastonbury during this period. The abbey attracted pilgrims and scholars and played a role in the religious life of the area.

Viking Raids | 9th century
The Vikings conducted raids along the coasts and rivers of Britain during the eighth and ninth centuries. Glastonbury, like other monastic sites, likely faced challenges during these raids.

See also
Collen | The Legend of King Arthur

Vita Gildae | Caradoc of Llancarfan, c. 1130
De Principis Instructione | Giraldus Cambrensis, c. 1193
Durmart le Gallois | Early 13th century
Arthour and Merlin | Late 13th century
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum | Bede, 731
Short Metrical Chronicle | 1307
The Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur | 14th century
Alliterative Morte Arthure | c. 1400
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
Idylls of the King | Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1859-1886