Archive for August, 2017

Medieval Glastonbury History

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Glastonbury in 1397 is the setting for Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  There are many legends about Glastonbury starting from the Roman period but few written records before the Norman Conquest in 1066.  What records do exist primarily concern Glastonbury Abbey, and many of those were lost in a fire of 1184 or at the time of the Dissolution by King Henry VIII in the 16th century.

There is written and archaeology evidence concerning Glastonbury Abbey from the seventh century and archaeological evidence concerning Glastonbury Tor, all of which I will discuss in future postings.  After the Conquest, there is much written material about both the abbey and the town.

The abbey served as a focal point around which the medieval town grew and towards which the various roads coming into Glastonbury converged.  By the 12th century, the abbey grounds formed almost a square around which the town was developing.  The High street ran along the north side.  On the west was Magdalene Street joining the High Street at the Market Place.  Lambcook Street was on the east side.  The medieval town grew up on these three sides and extended out in the direction of Wells on the northeast, towards the Chalice Well on the southeast, the village Meare to the northwest, and towards Beckery to the west.

Two parish churches existed at the time of my novel, and both were run by the abbey.  Saint John the Baptist on the High Street was the main parish church as it still is today.  Saint Benignus, due west of the abbey, served as a chapel under Saint John’s church.  In the 17th century, it was renamed Saint Benedict.  The picture above looks down Saint Benedict Street towards the church from the area of the Marker Place.  Today these two churches are joined with Saint Mary’s in the nearby village of Meare to form one modern parish.

From Saxon times, the town catered to the needs of the abbey and was dependent on its fortunes.  In addition to Saint John’s church, there are a couple of buildings today on the High Street that are medieval.  One was a Pilgrim’s Inn to serve pilgrims coming to the abbey.  In the 19th century it became the George Hotel and is now called the George Hotel and Pilgrim’s Inn.  Another is the Tribunal which now houses the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum mentioned in my last post.  Each of these was originally built just after my story, but they give an idea of the architecture of the time.  There are remnants of medieval almshouses just inside the west entrance to the abbey grounds from Magdalene Street and across that street as a part of Saint Margaret’s Hospital.  The abbey tithe barn is just outside the southeast corner of the abbey grounds and now houses the Somerset Rural Life Museum.

Glastonbury History up to Roman Times

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

Glastonbury in 1397 is the setting for Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  There has been human habitation in the general area of Glastonbury for at least 75,000 years but not in the town itself.  Wooden trackways were built in the Somerset Levels just to the west of Glastonbury from as early as 4000 BC.  The tracks connected areas of higher ground, especially in times of high water due to flooding.

There were also marsh area Celtic settlements called lake villages which were built in the watery environment of the Somerset Levels on great platforms of felled timbers.  One was just at the edge of present-day Glastonbury and another a couple of miles west near the village of Meare.  The picture on the upper left is a 1911 reconstruction drawing by A. Forestier of the Glastonbury Lake Village showing log boats arriving laden with swans.  This village reached its peak of about 200 people in the 2nd century BCE.  Artefacts from the site are on display at the museum located in the Tribunal, a building on the High Street in Glastonbury.

There was trade for British tin from ancient Greece and Rome.  Much of that was Cornish tin, but some of the tin came from the Mendip Hills in Somerset which form the north boundary of the Levels that I discussed I my last post.  The trade in this tin could have been accessed by water just as it was with Cornish tin.

There are many interesting legends about Glastonbury, and I will discuss some of them in future postings including legends that concern Joseph of Arimathea, a New Testament character, coming to Glastonbury.  Since he is part of the title of my novel, I would note here that if he came to Britain as the legends suggest, it would have been when the Celts were settled throughout Britain and before the Roman occupation.  Furthermore, it would have been at a time when Glastonbury was accessible from the sea.

After 43 CE, the Romans treated the area of the Somerset Levels around Glastonbury as a rural area.  However, the Fosse Way, the Roman road which connected Lincoln to Exeter passed just to the east of Glastonbury.  There were Roman settlements in Bath and perhaps the towns of Wells to the northeast of Glastonbury and in Ilchester to the southwest.  There is a cemetery just east of Glastonbury near Shepton Mallet that may contain Roman Christians.

For more on the Glastonbury Lake Village, click on .

For more on the Romans in Somerset, click on .

Somerset Levels

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Glastonbury in 1397 is the setting for Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  Its setting is different from other books in the series in several ways.  First, its location in the middle of the Somerset Levels is an unusual geographic location within the West Country of England.

The Somerset Levels is a coastal plain and wetland in the middle of Somerset.  Glastonbury is a major town centrally located in the region.  From southwest to northeast the Levels are drained largely by the rivers, Parrett, Brue, and Axe.  It is the Brue which flows between Glastonbury and its southern neighbour, the town of Street.

The Bristol Channel has some of the highest tides in the world, and the Levels are nearly at sea-level.  This means that these wetlands have always been subject to flooding from sea water.  Glastonbury is located at the eastern end of a raised peninsula of land which rises hundreds of feet above sea level.  Thus, the hill east of Glastonbury could be seen to rise like an island when people approached the town by boat when the area was flooded.  The peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Levels, came to known as the Isle of Avalon which I will discuss in a future posting on the connection of King Arthur with Glastonbury.

Since Roman times, men have reclaimed land by drainage from this wetland as was done in the fens of East Anglia and in Holland.  In another future posting, I will discuss the legends about Joseph of Arimathea coming to Glastonbury because these legends say that Joseph lived in this part of England in the early first century before the Romans occupied England and this wetland area.  The Bristol Channel at that time probably extended all the way east to Glastonbury.  Such access from the sea became rarer as land was drained, especially in medieval times.  It was frequently the monasteries such as Glastonbury Abbey that led in this reclamation effort.

Glastonbury is now more than a dozen miles from the sea, so it is hard for us to imagine access to the town from the sea in the west.  Yet, there have been events since medieval times when flooding from the sea again made such access possible.  One was in 1607, well after my 14th century story.  More recently, in 2013 and 2014, the area was subject to flooding from the sea and from massive rainfalls which caused freshwater flooding.  My husband and I experienced some remnants of that flooding on our research trip to Glastonbury in March of 2014.  We had to drive an alternate route from north Devon to get to Glastonbury because the direct highway was still closed from the previous winter’s flooding.  The picture shown above was taken from the heights of Glastonbury Tor in the direction of the River Brue and shows extensive casual water still in the fields, remaining from serious flooding of the Levels in the winter of 2014.

For more on the Somerset Levels, click on .

Links to buy Templar

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

For over a month, I have been posting articles on this blog related to Templar’s Prophecy, the fourth novel written in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  This story is set in Cirencester, England, in 1395.  If you have enjoyed reading the posts about medieval Cirencester and have not yet read my story, this might be a good time to order it.



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Happy reading!

Cirencester Parish Church of St John Baptist

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

The Cirencester Parish Church of Saint John Baptist is located just south of the abbey grounds and faces the Marketplace to the west.  This is one of the medieval buildings in Cirencester that existed in 1395 when I set Templar’s Prophecy,the fourth novel in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  My heroine lived on Dyer Street and would have passed the church every time she would have walked to the Marketplace or Cirencester Abbey.  She and others in the story had occasion to visit the church itself.

The origins of this church were tied to the foundation of the abbey in the 12th century.  The new abbey was built on the side of a minster church founded in the eighth or ninth century.  It was to replace that church that Saint John Baptist was built as the new parish church.  Enlarged over the centuries, it is now one of the largest parish churches in England as pictured to the top left.

In March of 2013, my husband and I were in Cirencester and visited the church several times including two Sunday mornings when we worshipped there.  It is an impressive church, grandly built because of the money generated by the wool trade in the town.  The aisles on either side of the nave are wide.  The internal length of the church is 158 feet and the width 104 feet.

Today there are several features which have been added after 1395, so one must mentally ignore these to get a feeling for the church at the time of my book.  The impressive tower at the west end of the church was built five years after my story.  The large Trinity Chapel was added to the north wall of the nave in the 15th century as was the multi-storey porch built outside the South door.  The roof of the nave was raised by a height of 20 feet in 1520 at the expense of the town’s merchants.  As one sits in the nave and looks towards the chancel rather than upwards, one sees the church much as it was at the time of my story.

For more on the Church of St John Baptist, click on,_Cirencester .