Glastonbury Abbey is connected with legend to a degree that is unparalleled by any other abbey in England. Since Medieval times it has held legendary status as the earliest Christian foundation in Britain linked to Joseph of Arimathea and the burial place of King Arthur.
The internationally renowned site attracts visitors from around the world for its history, heritage, myths and legends as well as for its spiritual enrichment and there has been a church on the site for at least 1500 years with evidence of even earlier occupation.
Glastonbury was the richest monastery in England at the end of the Saxon period and was second only to Westminster at the close of the middle ages.
Its Abbot lived in considerable splendour and wielded tremendous power with the main surviving example of this power and wealth to be found in the Abbot’s Kitchen, one of only three surviving medieval examples in the world.
It’s history is intertwined with English traditions; one of its Abbots – St Dunstan, wrote the Coronation words last used for the coronation of our present Queen Elizabeth II and William Blake’s popular “Jerusalem” is said to be written about the story that a young Jesus, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, visited Glastonbury.
The Holy Thorn which grows at Glastonbury Abbey has become part of the legend of Joseph of Arimathea. According to the story when Joseph arrived in Britain he landed on the island of Avalon and climbed up Wearyall Hill, exhausted he thrust his staff into the ground and rested. By morning his staff had taken root and it grew into the miraculous thorn tree which flowers every Easter and Christmas.
In 1191 the monks told the world they had found the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen found on the south side of the Lady Chapel. On 19th April 1278 their remains were removed in the presence of King Edward 1 and Queen Eleanor to a black marble tomb within the abbey itself. The tomb survived until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539.
In 1536, during the 27th year of the reign of Henry VIII, there were over 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in Britain. By 1541 there were none and the last abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting was hung, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor; a brutal end for a pious man.
Today it is a tranquil setting in which visitors can discover the stories behind Glastonbury Abbey with tours from costumed Living History presenters in the grounds; these tours are free but should be booked in advance for groups.
A packed events calendar brings theatre, concerts, exhibitions and workshops to the abbey grounds every year and the abbey’s spectacular Night at the Abbey in September is not to be missed. School and university groups can enjoy tailor-made itineraries and there are specific activities for families too.
An accredited museum showcases items from the abbey’s history and gives more information about the chronology of events, archaeological finds and gives an insight into monastic life. There are 36 acres of parkland to explore with a dedicated wildlife area as well as the new Medieval Kitchen Garden.
Groups are welcomed with a pre-booked meet and greet service available too and a special rate; driver and tour guide go free.
A full access statement is on the abbey’s website – www.glastonburyabbey.com – along with maps in 14 different languages.
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