Glastonbury is a small town in Somerset, England and situated 31 miles south of Bristol, with a population of approx 10,000.
Glastonbury’s early history is linked with it’s dominant landmark, the Tor, a nearby hill which rises up from the otherwise flat landscape of the Somerset Levels. On its summit is a tower, the mortal remains of the fourteenth century chapel of St. Michael, which gives the Tor a mysterious and gothic appearance. In the middle ages, dedications to the archangel Michael were usually for the purpose of protection or purification, which seems appropriate, since the top of Glastonbury Tor was traditionally believed to be the entrance to the Celtic underworld, Annwn.
Joseph of Arimathea was the Biblical figure who took Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. After fleeing Palestine he arrived in Britain bringing with him the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. It is said he was to have established the first church in England at Glastonbury, with archaeological records confirming that there may very well have been an early Christian church there. The Holy Grail has never been found but legend has it that it was buried by Joseph at the foot of Glastonbury Tor. Others have it that the Holy Grail was interred with Joseph when he died, in a secret grave. The search for the mysterious Grail emerges again and again in the tales of Glastonbury.
By the late Middle Ages Glastonbury Abbey had become the richest in England due to the heavy pilgrimage trade and certainly rich enough to build an inn for the more well-to-do pilgrims. The George Inn, on nearby High Street is one of the countries oldest surviving Inns and still welcomes guests today. The best preserved building in the abbey grounds is the old Abbot’s Kitchen, a curious square building which appears round due to its octagonal roof. In the abbey grounds are the reputed graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, which are said to have been conveniently discovered by the Glastonbury monks in the 12th century when the abbey needed a financial boost. Outside the grounds is the abbey tithe barn which now serves as the Somerset Rural Life Museum.
Glastonbury received national media coverage in 1999 when cannabis plants were found in the town’s floral displays. Today, Glastonbury is a centre for religious tourism and pilgrimage. Mysticism and paganism do co-exist, however, not always so easily with followers of its Christian heritage.
Copyright 2011 Glastonbury.com