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Posts Tagged ‘the Holy Grail’

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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Camelot’s Queen is Nicole Evelina’s new novel and the second in the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy. Evelina’s first novel, Daughter of Destiny, introduced readers to a new version of Guinevere, focusing on a part of the story often ignored—her childhood and youth in the years prior to her meeting and marrying King Arthur. Evelina gave us many surprises in that novel, from a childhood spent in Avalon to a lover no one would have expected. Consequently, when Guinevere’s marriage to Arthur is arranged, she is not happy to be parted from the man she truly loves.

Camelot's Queen, the second book in Nicole Evelina's trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere's marriage to King Arthur.

Camelot’s Queen, the second book in Nicole Evelina’s trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere’s marriage to King Arthur.

Camelot’s Queen picks up with Guinevere’s wedding to King Arthur and covers most of her adult life. Never fear, she still has her love affair with Lancelot, is accused of treason, nearly burnt at the stake, and at the end of the novel, is rescued by Lancelot, leaving the door open for what will happen in the upcoming third novel. However, while Camelot’s Queen focuses on the more mainstream events of Guinevere’s life, Evelina clearly makes it her own, not only in her depiction of a feisty, sometimes hot-headed and selfish, sometimes wise, Queen Guinevere, but also in how she rewrites traditional parts of the legend such as Guinevere’s abduction by Malegant and the Quest for the Holy Grail. Evelina also creates new characters such as Guinevere’s new and unwanted female bodyguard, and she realigns other characters’ roles, especially that of Morgan, who is Guinevere’s rival.

For the most part, this is a realistic novel, although Evelina uses Celtic cultural influences in the story with just a touch of magic to them; for example, Guinevere’s training in Avalon allows her to have some small control over the elements, such as being able to create clouds and make it rain.

Evelina also gives a new spin on the conflict between Christianity and Paganism that has become mainstream to the legend in recent years, but no one would have suspected that Morgan, of all people, would convert to Christianity while Guinevere holds out against it—how that situation develops is quite stunning and to explain it here would be to take away pleasure from the reader. I will say, however, that I found this element the most interesting theme in the novel, and I was especially impressed by how Evelina treats the Holy Grail in relation to it.

An Author’s Note at the end gives some of Evelina’s reasons for the changes she made to the traditional storyline as well as insight into her extensive research into the Arthurian period, including visits to Arthurian places and consulting with Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe.

As an Arthurian novelist myself, I found Evelina’s interpretations sometimes surprising, but usually dramatically effective. Her choices were certainly interesting, and not being a purist—why read Arthurian modern fiction if you are?—I was often delighted with her choices and her imaginative realigning of many Arthurian characters and themes. I especially found the family lineages and characters’ relationships interesting because Evelina uses them to explain some often confusing aspects of the legend, including the connections between the different nobles and royals of Cornwall, as well as Arthur’s own family tree and his relationship to Morgan. The book also moves at a quick pace—in a few places a little too quick I thought where I would have liked more details—but Evelina provides plenty of details in the key scenes, and in some of the places where I wanted more, I suspect Evelina intentionally held back to build up suspense for the third book in the series, Mistress of Legend, which will be published in 2017.

Anyone who loves strong female protagonists—or let’s face it, the Arthurian legend—will find plenty to enjoy, ponder, and discuss in Camelot’s Queen.

For more information about Nicole Evelina and Camelot’s Queen, visit her website at www.NicoleEvelina.com

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, and the upcoming Lilith’s Love and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly work King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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