Glastonbury Abbey, a grade I listed building and scheduled ancient monument, stands as a testament to religious and mystical history in Glastonbury, Somerset, England. Founded in the 8th century and enlarged in the 10th, the Abbey was one of the richest and most powerful monasteries in England until its suppression in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII. The last abbot, Richard Whiting, faced a tragic fate, being hanged, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor as a traitor.
The Abbey is also deeply entwined with legends and myths, notably its association with King Arthur and Avalon. Medieval monks promoted the belief that Glastonbury was Avalon, the final resting place of King Arthur. In 1191, the monks claimed to have discovered the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, a discovery that some historians believe was a publicity stunt to raise funds for the Abbey’s repair.
Another enduring legend is that of Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Christ who, according to medieval lore, brought the Holy Grail to Britain and established the first church at Glastonbury. This story, integral to Arthurian romances, adds a mystical dimension to the Abbey’s history. Joseph’s arrival at Avalon, planting his staff at Wearyall Hill which took root as the Holy Thorn, further cements the Abbey’s place in the tapestry of British mythology. The Holy Thorn tree, known for its unusual twice-yearly flowering, is believed to be descended from Joseph’s original staff. This thorn continues to be a symbol of the enduring legends surrounding Glastonbury Abbey.
Today, the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey are managed by the Glastonbury Abbey trust, attracting visitors from all over, drawn not only to its historical significance but also to its mythical allure. The Abbey serves as a focal point for pilgrimages, continuing a tradition that has spanned centuries, and remains a place where history and legend intertwine in the most enchanting ways.