Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
When it comes to learning about Glastonbury in Somerset, England, there are so many legends and so very much mystery shrouded in the mists of time that fiction and lore are often intermingled with historical facts. It is difficult at times to distinguish between what is real and what belongs to the mythical. Many are the old legends of Glastonbury and the ancient Glastonbury Abbey.
In ancient times, Glastonbury Tor was an island, the sea caressing the gentle slopes of the cluster of hills below the Tor. In time the sea pulled back and left a vast lake and marshy wetlands. When up close to the Tor, the gradual ascent to the top is rather subtle -- yet from a distance this is an amazing sight that has inspired feelings of spiritual possibilities, legends, and much speculation on its history.
Unusual terracing around the Tor has lead to many theories as to the purpose of it. One thought is that the terracing is actually the work of ancient people who created the maze for ritualistic reasons, for the design of the maze is that of an ancient pattern symbolic of magic rituals. The maze was formed about 5000 years ago. This would put the creation of the maze in the same time period as when Stonehenge was created.
The terracing is not typical of that done for agricultural purposes, which would be made by man on the south side only of the hill, to take advantage of the most amount of sunshine. The north side is terraced as much as they are all around. For agricultural purposes, this would be of little benefit. Also, none of the other hills around the Tor were terraced. What is unusual about the terracing is that it spirals up from bottom to top, rather then in concentric circles in equal height on the sides and width, as is usual for agriculture. The terracing is also not seen as defensive ramparts, which would be a bank and ditch formation.
The spiraling of the terracing is very indicative of a labyrinth -- but for what purpose? Since many believe that the Glastonbury Tor once stood above Avalon, it is just as easy to believe that the spiral to the top was made by the faery folk of Morgan le Fay's realm for ritualistic reasons -- maybe to carry out ceremonial rituals on the highest point of Avalon. Or was the spiral path originally made for the spiral castle of Avallach, Lord of the Underworld?
The Tor still dominates the flat marshy lowlands that surround it in Glastonbury. It was referred to as Ynis-witrin in ancient times. Ynis-witrin, an old British name, means Isle of Glass. In Celtic lore, the Tor was called Avalon, the Isle of Apples.
Many believe it is here where Morgan le Fay dwells in the sanctuary of the faery, hidden from those who know not the way through the mist. Beyond the mists is revealed the heart of Avalon. Tis here that King Arthur was taken to be healed and nevermore seen.
On the grounds of the old abbey there is a grave with a plague that reads it is the tomb of King Arthur. According to one account, written by the historian, Gerald of Wales, Queen Guinevere also is in the same grave. When monks in the year 1191 dug up the grave, they found the remains of a man who would have been about seven feet tall in life. A petite woman was lying next to him. She had long golden hair that disintegrated when it was touched. It was an unusual grave the monks found, 16 feet underground. There they found a stone slab on top of a hollowed out log. Under the slab was a lead cross that had an inscription on it, identifying the remains as Arthur and Guinevere.
In the year 1278, the remains in the grave were transferred to a shrine in the new monastic church, where it can be seen today.
One of the most enduring legends is the Sacred Glastonbury Thorn and the Chalice Well. The legend tells that during the first century, Joseph of Arimathea came to Somerset with the boy Jesus. It is believed that Joseph was a close friend or uncle of the Virgin Mary's family. Joeseph and Jesus built the first church at Glastonbury. Many years later, after the crucifixion of Jesus, Joseph brought the Holy Grail to Avalon and buried it below the Tor, at the entrance to the underworld. When he sat down to rest, he stuck his staff into the ground. In the morning, he found the staff had taken root and had become a thorn bush. In that same spot, sacred water began to flow from a spring. This spring is now called the Chalice Well. It offers eternal youth to those who drink from it.