Mythical Medieval Glastonbury


What remains of a chapel on the top of the Tor. The views were amazing.

Just as King Arthur searched for the Holy Grail, in Monty Python’s movie, we headed to Somerset in England to visit Glastonbury because it is steeped in myths, legends and history. We drove about two hours south from our base in Wales into England for a sightseeing day. Legends about King Arthur, the Holy Grail, Joseph of Arimathea, the Chalice Well, the Glastonbury Tor, and it’s infamous electromagnetic energy Ley Lines, fascinate us and we wanted to visit the historical sights tied to these legends. In legend, King Arthur was said to have visited the area twice; once to rescue Guinevere and then, to be buried. Our quest was to walk where myths were born.


We took a taxi from Glastonbury out to the northeast entrance of the Tor. It was only a 1 1/2 miles but we knew we would be walking back. So glad we did. The stairs going up the hill are steep and small.


The western BIG steps lead down, at a mellower pace, to the town of Glastonbury.


Sheep grazing on the side of the Tor.

First up was to climb the Tor. Located outside the town, it is a natural geological plug of sandstone on clay. Supposedly, energising ley lines cross at the top of the Tor. There are two ways to the top, we think we chose the hard route up. Luckily, we did not have to call 999 and we made it up to the top of the 520’ summit to survey the surrounding Somerset countryside views. The less-steep side, we tried on the way back down. The views are incredible. At the top, are the remains of a chapel dedicated to St. Michael. Often, early Christians would build on pagan sites. Theories about the underground ley lines state that ancient sacred sights are erected along the ley lines. The most famous ley line, St. Michael’s, runs through the Tor. We didn’t feel anything different, although we did wonder about the people walking around on the rocks with bare feet in 50 degrees temperature.


The Chalice Well is located in a garden setting at the base of the Tor. Note the rust color. This is the filter spring water that you can drink from or fill water bottles. Some visitors were dipping their cross necklaces in the water here. Another thorn tree is in the garden.

On the way back down, the easy way, we stopped to chat with some sheep and visited the Chalice Well. It is said that the red iron deposit in the water comes from a spring that started when Joseph of Arimathea buried or washed the cup used at the Last Supper. We figured this was an important stop on our quest, although we did not drink the water.


The Lady’s Chapel on the Glastonbury Abbey site. It was built in stages before the larger Abbey was built.


Inside the smaller Lady’s Chapel.


Interior of the Lady’s Chapel.

We walked back to town, glad that we had taken a taxi to the base of the Tor to begin with, and strolled past the new age shops that cater to the crystal-carrying public. The largest music festival in the world is the Glastonbury Festival and it’s held once a year, a couple miles outside of town. Seems like many visitors came for the music festival and never left. The economy of the area is affected by the festival participants, but in medieval times, Glastonbury’s economy was dependent upon the abbey.

There some wonderful old buildings throughout the town, but as time was running short, we headed into the Glastonbury Abbey to learn about the lives of the Benedictine monks and see the ruins. Legends say that Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’ uncle, visited here in 37 AD and with him came the Holy Grail, Jesus’ blood, and Christianity. He is often credited with bringing the new religion to England, as he was a tin merchant and England was producing tin at the time. Legends say that he established the first church here.

The monks arrived from France and established the abbey in 712 AD. In medieval times, Glastonbury Abbey was England’s most powerful abbey, after Westminster Abbey. Part of the draw of the many visitors back then was the relics of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. It is believed that the medieval monks fabricated that story that the relics were supposedly found in the abbey’s grounds and reburied in the church in the 12th century. Historians do not believe this particular claim, but the graves are still marked and draw crowds of visitors (like us!). The graves increased the fortunes of the abbey through the years, which was the reason for the monks claim. 


Remains of the Glastonbury Abbey church.


A remaining arch. Some pieces of stonework can be seen in the site’s museum.


The gravesite of King Arthur. In the year 1191 the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen were said to have been found on the south side of the Lade Chapel. On19th April 1278 their remains were removed in the presence of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor to a black marble tomb on this site. This tomb survived until the Dissolution of the Abbey in 1539.

After Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church, he had the abbey destroyed, killed the abbot (hanged, drawn and quartered!) and took all their funds. The monks returned to France. The ruins now stand on a 36 acre park in the center of Glastonbury. Not much remains of the monastic ruins or the church. The abbey house still exists as does part of the Lady Chapel.


The two thorn trees believed to be grown from a shoot from the original tree that grew from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea.


The lavendar garden at the abbey.

Other pilgrims come to see the Holy Thorn trees that are believed to have descended from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea. According to legend, the trees bloom on Easter (on old wood) and at Christmas (on new wood). The trees are located in the gardens, near the entrance to the site and the abbey museum. The museum is filled with pieces of carved stone and artifacts found on the grounds.

We enjoyed our mystical day at Glastonbury. Steeped in history, it was well worth the visit.

This is the fifth blog on our September trip. Thanks for reading along.

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