Glastonbury Abbey, King Arthur, and the Holy Grail
Glastonbury is considered the birthplace of Christianity in England and the burial site of legendary King Arthur. Pilgrims come on a quest for the Holy Grail, while others seek spiritual wellness. The town caters to an eclectic crowd.
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Throughout England, the countryside is picturesque. And it hides a fascinating history…a history that goes back thousands of years, to prehistoric times. Mysterious figures carved into hillsides, curious man-made mountains, ancient bridges, and legends that go back to Camelot and beyond.
Glastonbury — a modest market town today — has long had a holy aura. It was a religious site back in the Bronze Age — that’s about 1500 BC. It's also considered the birthplace of Christianity in England and the burial site of the legendary King Arthur.
Centuries before Christ, this hill, called a “tor,” marked Glastonbury. For thousands of years, pilgrims and seekers have climbed it. Today, it's capped by the ruins of a church dedicated to St. Michael. Remember, because St. Michael was the Christian antidote to paganism, it's a good bet this church sits upon a pre-Christian holy site.
Seen by many as a Mother Goddess symbol, the Glastonbury Tor has long attracted a variety of travelers and seekers. And the Tor has a Biblical connection as well.
For centuries, pilgrims have come here, to Glastonbury, on a quest for the legendary Holy Grail. You see, Joseph of Arimathea, who was an uncle of Christ, was a tin trader. And even back in Biblical times Britain was well known as a rare place where tin could be mined. Considering that, Joseph could have sat right here — with the chalice that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper — in his satchel.
Near the base of the hill is a calm and meditative garden built around a natural spring. According to legend, the Holy Grail lies at the bottom of the Chalice Well. In the past, people came here for physical healing. Today, seekers still come for healing, but it’s more for a wellness of the mind and soul.
England's first church was built here — at the base of the hill next to the Chalice Well. Eventually, a great abbey was built on the site of that church.
Mix the scant ruins of England’s first church with the mystique of King Arthur and Holy Grail, add the hard work of a busy monastery, and, by the 12th century, Glastonbury Abbey was the leading Christian pilgrimage site in all of Britain. It was huge, employing a thousand people to serve the needs of its pilgrims.
At its peak, Glastonbury Abbey was England’s most powerful and wealthy. It was part of a network of monasteries that by the year 1500 challenged the king. They owned about a quarter of all English land. They had more money than the king.
To King Henry VIII, abbeys like this were political obstacles. In 1536, he solved that by dissolving England’s monasteries. He was particularly harsh on Glastonbury — he not only destroyed its magnificent church, but for emphasis, his men hung the abbot, displayed his head on the abbey gates, and sent his quartered body on four different national tours… at the same time.
Without its wealthy abbey, the town fell into a depression. But Glastonbury rebounded. An 18th-century tourism campaign — with thousands claiming that water from the Chalice Well actually healed them — put Glastonbury back on the map.
Today, Glastonbury and its mysterious hill are a center for “searchers” — popular with those on their own spiritual quest. Part of the fun of a visit here is just being in a town where goddesses go for their conventions, where every other shop has a New Age focus, and where alternative is the norm.