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Archive for June, 2019

Glastonbury is my favorite place in England. It is also, in my opinion, the most magical. Perhaps that’s because I first visited it in May 1993, just a few months after I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, so I could just see Morgan le Fay there, like she is at the end of the novel. But there is far more to this historical place than its role in some fantasy novels. In fact, it is England’s holiest ground.

Ruins at Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury’s story is shrouded in mystery. There is a cross there presented by Queen Elizabeth II to honor it as a place so ancient its orgins can only be sought in legend. Consequently, many legends have arisen about it, especially concerning King Arthur.

Glastonbury’s King Arthur connections actually go back five centuries before his time. That’s because it was to Glastonbury that St. Joseph of Arimathea, allegedly an uncle or great-uncle to Jesus Christ, brought his nephew to study with the druids, an explanation for the lost years of Jesus’ childhood and early adulthood. Later, Joseph of Arimathea returned to Glastonbury after Jesus’ death; there he established the abbey and became its first abbot. He also brought with him the Holy Grail, in which he had captured Jesus’ blood after he had been pierced by the Spear of Longinus while dying on the Cross. The Holy Grail was believed to have been kept at Glastonbury for many years.

Inside Glastonbury Abbey’s ruins.

Also connected to Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury is the Holy Thorn. It is said that this thorn tree grew from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff, which he planted into the ground at Glastonbury. The thorn was remarkable because it blossomed with flowers at Christmas and may be the only thorn in the world to do so—Christmas being Jesus’ birthday and thus a time when the thorn celebrated Christ’s birth. Unfortunately, the original thorn was destroyed by the Puritans during the English Civil War. Offsprings of that thorn continued to grow at Glastonbury until just last month when, after repeated vandal attempts, the last one was removed by the landowner. (see “Glastonbury’s Famous Holy Thorn Removed.”)

The holy thorn as it appeared circa 1991.

Glastonbury Tor at dawn

As for King Arthur, we all know that after he was wounded at the Battle of Camlann, Morgan le Fay took him away on a barge to Avalon. Speculation exists that Avalon was nearby, possibly being Glastonbury Tor, a hill that rises up like an island shrouded in mist. Here it has also been said that the Holy Grail was kept. While I prefer to believe King Arthur is still living on Avalon—a place yet to be discovered by the modern world—and waiting to return in the hour of Britain’s greatest need, one tradition is that Arthur was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. In 1191, monks at the abbey claimed to have discovered the remains of Arthur and Guinevere on the abbey property. Also found was an iron cross verifying they were Arthur and Guinevere’s graves. The original cross has since disappeared—if it ever existed—but a drawing of it was made that has survived. The story also goes that one of the monks reached in and touched Guinevere’s golden tresses, but they then instantly disintegrated. In 1278, King Edward I and Queen Eleanor attended a ceremony at the abbey when King Arthur and Guinevere’s bodies were reburied under the high altar. No one has apparently disturbed the bodies since then, although I am surprised no archeologist has tried to.

Arthur and Guinevere’s most likely fake grave at Glastonbury Abbey

Were King Arthur and Guinevere really buried at Glastonbury? I’m skeptical. Many scholars have speculated that the bodies were planted there by Henry II as a hoax to destroy myths that King Arthur would return, thus keeping the Welsh and Saxons from having any hope that they could rebel or that they would be saved by Arthur from the rule of a Norman Plantagenet king. It’s also possible the monks themselves created a hoax so they could make Glastonbury a place of pilgrimage, thus increasing the money coming into their coffers.

One of the abbey walls.

No one can say if any of the stories of Glastonbury Abbey associated with King Arthur or Joseph of Arimathea are true or even if they have any shred of truth to them. I only know that for me, my visit to Glastonbury Abbey was a surreal experience. Something instantly drew me to the place that I cannot explain. On my first visit, I was on a tour. I remember that after fifteen or so minutes, everyone on the tour with me left the ruins to go into the gift shop or the village for coffee, but I remained behind, my heart leaping with joy to be there. I wandered all over the ruins, taking numerous pictures, climbing the stairs, visiting the chalice well, and exploring every inch of the property. I honestly cannot think of another time when I was so excited to visit a place. It wasn’t that I had been greatly anticipating my visit there, but that something about the place made me feel like an overjoyed child; my heart was laughing and I wanted practically to skip as I explored the ruins. My reaction could be because Glastonbury is a sacred space, or because it is believed to be one of the energy sources on the planet. I also think it’s possible, since I believe in reincarnation and think it likely I spent several past lives as a monk or priest, that perhaps my past is connected with Glastonbury. I cannot truly explain why it attracts me so much. I only know that for me, after all these years, the magic of that visit has never faded.

A reproduction of the lead cross found at Glastonbury Abbey claiming it as the place of King Arthur’s burial.

If you only get to visit one Arthurian place in your life, hands down Glastonbury Abbey is the place to visit. If you wish to learn more about it, I highly recommend John Matthews’ book A Glastonbury Reader: Selections from the Myths, Legends and Stories of Ancient Avalon, and I also recommend The Mists of Avalon as a novel that is partly set there. Several other Arthurian novels have also incorporated Glastonbury into their storylines.

If you do wish to visit Glastonbury, as well as other Arthurian sites, I recommend you check out the Scholarly Sojourns tour Uncovering Camelot: A Journey Through Arthurian Britain.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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I am so excited to announce that Scholarly Sojourns, a tour company that provides tours of interest to scholars, is now offering a special tour of Arthurian Britain, titled “Uncovering Camelot.”

As someone who has twice gone to Britain seeking Arthurian sites, this is the kind of trip I have always wanted to go on, so I have to share it with my readers. Many of the Arthurian sites I’ve visited myself, including Stonehenge and Glastonbury Abbey, are included on this tour, but besides the sites in England, there are many in Wales to visit, some of which I didn’t even know about, including the lake where the Lady of the Lake reputably gave King Arthur his sword.

This incredible eight-day tour takes place October 6-13, 2019. Below is a short itinerary of sites that will be visited. More details can be found at the Scholarly Sojourns’ website: http://www.scholarlysojourns.com/ap/coa/uncovering-camelot-a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/

DAY 1—ARRIVE IN SOUTH WALES: The trip begins at the Swansea rail station in South Wales. The first excursion is to Carreg Cennen Castle, which has Arthurian connections as well as beautiful scenery. Traveling that afternoon through the Welsh countryside, the trip leads to the Falcondale Hotel, where visitors will stay for the night. Tour leader Professor Dorsey Armstrong will host an opening reception and give a keynote address followed by a special welcome dinner.

DAY 2—CARMARTHEN AND PEMBROKESHIRE COAST: On this day, travel to Carmarthen—birthplace of Merlin. The visit includes numerous sites associated with the famous wizard, including Merlin’s Tree, Merlin’s Hill, and Merlin’s Stone. Next, travel through the Preseli Mountains, home to the stones Merlin magically transported to build Stonehenge. Also visit the Neolithic burial chamber Pentre Ifan, or Arthur’s Quoit. After lunch, visit Lake Bosherton—one of the possible resting places for Excalibur. Nearby is St. Govan’s Head, where a chapel marks the spot Sir Gawain settled as a hermit after Arthur died, and where he was buried.

DAY 3—CAERLEON, CAERWENT, AND KING ARTHUR’S CAVE: Highlights for this day include traveling to Caerleon, site of a Roman fortress, and the location Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed was the site of Arthur’s court. Next, explore Arthur’s Cave—perhaps this is where he sleeps according to some versions of the legend. The night is spent in a historic hotel that was once a Cistercian monastery that dates from 1180.

The ruins of Tintagel Castle where King Arthur was reputably born.

DAY 4—CAERLEON TO TINTAGEL: From Caerleon travel in the morning to Cornwall. First stop is Bodmin Moor, filled with sites associated with Arthur. Visit the Dozmary Pool—another possible resting place for Excalibur. In the afternoon, travel to Slaughterbridge near the town of Camelford, one possible location for Camelot. View a sixth-century stone inscribed to mark the spot King Arthur was mortally wounded by Mordred. Next, visit Tintagel Castle, the reputed birthplace of King Arthur. For the next two nights, stay at the Camelot Castle Hotel within walking distance of Tintagel.

DAY 5—LAND’S END, ST. MICHAEL’S MOUNT, AND ROCHE ROCK: Today, travel to Land’s End, the very tip of Great Britain. From there, view the Isles of Scilly, believed by some to be the Isle of Avalon where Arthur was brought to be healed of his wound. After visiting Penzance, travel on to St. Michael’s Mount, where King Arthur fought the mythical giant Cormoran. Finally, stop at Roche Rock where Tristan and Isolde are said to have hid from King Mark.

St. Michael’s Mount, where King Arthur fought a giant.

DAY 6—SOMERSET TO WELLS: Today, enjoy a visit to the enormous, ancient hill fort of Cadbury Castle, one of the primary contenders for Camelot. Locals believe King Arthur still lies sleeping in a cave within the hill. Next, visit Bath, claimed by Geoffrey of Monmouth to be the site of Arthur’s last great battle, the Battle of Badon Hill. In the evening travel to Wells, home to an eighth-century cathedral.

DAY 7—OLD SARUM TO AVEBURY TO STONEHENGE: Depart Wells to encounter three of the most significant prehistoric sites in Britain. First is Old Sarum—an Iron Age hilltop settlement that some argue may have been the location of Camelot. Next, explore the largest stone circle in Europe at Avebury—believed to have been built to commemorate King Arthur’s final battle. Arthur’s slain warriors are said to be buried there. Finally, visit Stonehenge which legend says Merlin constructed as a memorial after a fifth-century massacre.

DAY 8—GLASTONBURY: This final day, visit Glastonbury (my personal favorite of all Arthurian sites). It is here that Joseph of Arimathea supposedly brought the child Jesus to study and later Joseph returned with the Holy Grail after Jesus’ death. The holy thorn grows here, the descendant of the thorn that grew out of Joseph’s staff. The visit includes a walking tour to Chalice Well, the purported resting place of the Holy Grail. Climb Glastonbury Tor if you wish. Finally, visit Glastonbury Abbey, home to the purported tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, discovered in 1191.

A more complete itinerary of the “Uncovering Camelot” tour can be requested through Scholarly Sojourns website, where you can also sign up for the trip: http://www.scholarlysojourns.com/ap/coa/uncovering-camelot-a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/

Glastonbury Tor at dawn

This trip is an Arthurian enthusiast or scholar’s dream come true. I know that as an American who is an author of both Arthurian fiction and nonfiction, my writing was deeply enriched by my visits to many Arthurian locations. I cannot recommend such a trip enough, and I hope you’ll get to enjoy it this year or sometime in the near future.

In future posts, I will write up details of some of the places on this trip that I visited myself because even though I first visited some of these sites as long ago as 1993, I still cherish my memories of my own Arthurian excursions in Britain.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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