Glastonbury (derivation: the fortified place of the people of “Glaston”(?).) is an ancient market town in Somerset, England, famous for its Tor, its annual “Festival of Modern Performing Arts”, and for all things Arthurian.
Few places in England can claim as long a link with Christianity. Joseph of Arimathea is said to have planted a thorn tree there. (A descendant, a rather unassuming little tree, completely unprotected from the chance of human harm, grows in the grounds of the Church of St. John the Baptist in the High Street.) Glastonbury is reputed to be the site of the first Christian Church on the island, created either by Joseph himself in about AD 63 or a little over 100 years later by Roman missionaries at the request of a British royal convert. William of Malmesbury, writing in 1135, was inclined towards the latter.
The town grew up around the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary which, when laid waste during Henry VIII’s “Dissolution of the Monastories”, was one of the oldest and richest in the realm. First built in the 7th century, it was improved and enlarged by St. Dunstan during the tenth century. St. Patrick is claimed to be buried there as were King Arthur and Guinevere. (The “Holy Grail”, sought by Arthur’s knights, is said to have been a chalice of Christ’s blood brought to England by Joseph.) Glastonbury – on high ground surrounded by the “Somerset Levels”, medieval marshland where once Alfred the Great licked his wounds before gathering his forces and retaking his kingdom – is one of preferred sites of the legendary Arthurian island of Avalon.
Glastonbury Tor, a natural landmark that looks man-made, overlooks the town. Evidence of human use of the Tor has been dated as far back as pre-Roman times. Permanent occupation began in the sixth century A.D. The renovated ruins of the tower of a medieval church sit on top, giving the Tor a distinctive feature that can be seen for many miles around. Sixteenth century legend has a secret entrance somewhere into the Tor leading to “fairyland” – but these stories are Welsh.
Certainly, the Tor and Glastonbury itself are a centre for “New Age” tourism with many shops on the high street catering for it. There is a backpackers’ hostel and bookshops and giftshops that cater for pagan miscellanea. Wiccan and Christianity seem to coexist quite comfortably.
Reference: Brewer's Britain and Ireland
- See also: Avalon