Archive for September, 2017

Glastonbury Tor

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Glastonbury in 1397 is the setting for Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  The dominant topographic feature of the entire area is Glastonbury Tor, a hill which rises 520 feet above the town and the Somerset Levels which surround it.  There is some evidence of Christian activity on the Tor even earlier than we know of its existence in the town.  It may also have been the location of a Romano-British shrine well before the Christian era.

Glastonbury Tor, as shown in the picture, plays a major role in my story.  Because of ties between Glastonbury Abbey and Cornwall and the Tor’s ancient importance to the Celts, I decided to include some Celtic characters in the story who have a keen religious interest in the Tor as part of the novel.  To do this, I have introduced two Druids, a man and his mother from a remote part of Ireland, who come to Glastonbury with a mission related to Glastonbury Tor.  A small Christian priory, Saint Michael’s, stood atop the Tor in 1397, and some interaction between the monks and the Druids plays out in Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure.

Archaeology has produced finds from at least the Iron Age, so we know that the Tor has been occupied or visited regularly for millenia.  This has led to considerable speculation about its use by various groups including pre-Christian Celts, Romano-British people, Celtic Christians, Anglo-Saxon Christians in the pre-Norman Conquest period.  Since the Conquest, there are better records of the monastic developments on the Tor.  A 10th century chapel on the Tor was destroyed by a 13th century earthquake with the priory church being rebuilt in the 14th century.  Its tower remains today at the top of the hill.

In my blog posting of August 22, 2017, I discussed the Celtic Lake Village which was a few miles northwest of Glastonbury and the Tor.  It was regarded as being religiously significant by the Celts that at the time of the Winter Solstice the sunrise would appear to the Lake Villagers exactly over the Tor as would the southernmost moonrise of each year.  This is shown in the map on the right.

The same experience is true for an observer on Saint Edmund’s Hill which lies between Glastonbury Abbey and the Tor.  For such an observer, the sun not only appears to be rising from the peak at the winter solstice but can be seen briefly at six indentations going up the left side of the Tor.  The indentations are part of symmetrical terraces on the sides of the hill.  They are more obvious as one approaches the Tor from a distance.  The terraces may have been used in the medieval period by the monks for agricultural purposes, but no one knows how much they are natural or were created by human hands.  It is possible that they have some ancient, unknown ceremonial or religious meaning.  The terraces can be seen to form a winding path or a labyrinth, defining the Tor as a seven-tiered pyramid. My heroine, the Lady Apollonia, became interested in this ancient path and drew her version of it while climbing the Tor.

There are also connections made between the Tor and the legends of King Arthur.  The Tor is sometimes called the Isle of Avalon.  I will discuss these legends in my next posting.

The Druids in my story are leaders of the intellectual class of the Celts but they were leaders who ran across tribal lines in Celtic society.  The little that we know about them before the Christian era comes from Greek and Roman writers who were generally not very sympathetic with the Celts.  Before Celtic Christianity, the Celts had no written language, but Druids were the spiritual leaders of their people who preserved knowledge through their oral tradition.  Indeed, the training of a Druid is thought to have taken as long as two decades of his/her life.  The Druids were the philosophers, judges, teachers, historians, poets, musicians, astronomers, philosophers, prophets, priests, and political advisers.  Some became political leaders in Celtic society, but not all leaders of the tribes were Druids.

The mission of the two Druids in my story involves Tor burrs or eggstones.  These are hard oval or egg-shaped stones which can vary in diameter from a fraction of an inch to a few feet.  Their exact cause of formation is unknown, but it may be that the local iron-rich water percolating through the sand began to accrete around small modules that eventually grew into  the Tor’s eggstones.

For more on Glastonbury Tor, click on or on .

Glastonbury Abbey Buildings

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Glastonbury in 1397 is the setting for Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  The medieval history of the town of Glastonbury was intimately tied to Glastonbury Abbey, and the town had built up around the abbey grounds.  With one exception, all the abbey buildings within the abbey grounds are gone or in ruins.  I have discussed them in my previous posting.

There are abbey buildings, however, which survive in the town and elsewhere.  Some are just outside the perimeter of the abbey grounds and they play a role in my story.  Beyond the southeast corner of the grounds is the abbey tithe barn, still in excellent condition and housing the Somerset Rural Life Museum.  It is cruciform in shape like a church with symbols of the four evangelists carved on the four gable ends.  The picture above shows the eagle of Saint John the Evangelist on the west side of the building.  This tithe barn also plays a role in my story.

The George Hotel and Pilgrim’s Inn on the High Street in Glastonbury was the abbey inn for pilgrims by the 15th century, but the abbey’s interest in encouraging pilgrimage goes back to earlier centuries.  I have described in my story that the pardoner, Bryan Landow was able to obtain accommodation the abbey’s Pilgrim Inn.

The local churches in Glastonbury were controlled by the abbey.  Two of them remain today.  Saint John the Baptist is on the High Street and plays a major role in my story.  My husband and I worshipped there on a couple of Sunday mornings when we were doing research for my book.  Saint Benedict, the other existing medieval church, stands to the west of the abbey grounds and is perfectly in line with the location of the abbey church.

Three other abbey buildings still exist in the village of Meare, just a few miles outside Glastonbury in the Somerset Levels.  The most important to my story is the Abbot’s Fish House, the only surviving monastic fishery in England.  It is a rectangular stone building which was constructed for the storage and processing of fish with a residence on the upper floor for the chief fisherman.

The Church of Saint Mary and the abbot’s summer residence are two other buildings associated with Glastonbury Abbey which still exist in Meare.  The abbot’s residence is now a grand farmhouse, but the church is now affiliated with the churches of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Benedictine Glastonbury, which I mentioned earlier, into one parish of the Church of England.

For more on the abbey tithe ban, click on or on .

Glastonbury Abbey Grounds

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Glastonbury in 1397 is the setting for Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  The medieval history of the town of Glastonbury was intimately tied to Glastonbury Abbey, and the town had literally built up around the abbey grounds.  Today that can still be seen, but those grounds, with one exception, only contain ruins as shown in the diagram on the left in which the viewer is looking eastward.

The northwest corner of the grounds is dominated by the ruins of the great abbey church which was almost 600 feet in length.  Only Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, destroyed by fire in the 17th century, compared in length.  Some stonework is left in Glastonbury: the walls of the Norman Lady Chapel on the west end of the church and scattered bits of walls from the nave, the crossing, and the quire.  A marker in the quire shows where the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere lie, recovered by monks in the 12th century, they were reburied in the quire in the 13th century.  Much of church area is now covered in grass.

A visitor can view a model of the church and other monastic buildings in the museum located at the extreme northwest of the grounds.  Also, some remnants from the abbey, such as 13th century wooden doors, are on display there.

The chapter house was south of the south transept, but nothing of it remains.  Similarly, the cloister was just south of the nave.  Further south was the refectory where the vault beneath it survives.  Beyond that was the monk’s kitchen, but nothing of it remains.  South of the chapter house was the dormitory.  It was on the first floor, but only a suggestion of the ground floor remains.  Past it was the monks’ toilet block but now there is just a suggestion that something once stood there.

The abbot’s house was detached from all these monastic buildings and stood to the west of them.  Today all that survives from the abbot’s accommodations are the abbot’s kitchen and a little fragment of wall from his hall.  The only other medieval structure, within the abbey grounds still standing is the entry gate to Magdalene Street at the far northwest corner.  On the south side of the grounds, one can visit two beautiful ponds and the site of the abbey herb garden.

For more on Glastonbury Abbey, click on .

Glastonbury Abbey History

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Glastonbury in 1397 is the setting for Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  I tried to show in my previous post that the medieval history of the town of Glastonbury was intimately tied to Glastonbury Abbey.  Here I will speak of the history of the abbey itself.

The most ancient church on the site of Glastonbury Abbey was the vetusta ecclesia in Latin, or the old church in English.  It survived until the abbey fire of 1184, but its origins are unknown.  Some believe it was the nucleus of a British monastery which preceded the Anglo-Saxon institution of the late 7th to 8th centuries.  Some believe the history of this church began with the legends of Joseph of Arimathea who brought Christianity to Glastonbury in the first century.  I will discuss those legends in a future post.

The medieval abbey became the richest and most venerated monastic foundation in England, first under the patronage of the Saxon King Ine who is said to have built a stone church to the east of the old church around 720 AD.  The abbey was further strengthened by a mid-10th century abbot, Dunstan, who brought the Benedictine Rule to the abbey.  He later became Archbishop of Canterbury and was canonised in the 11th century.  After the Norman Conquest, Glastonbury Abbey added extensive building to the church including the Lady Chapel in the west and considerable building additions to the east.  At the time of the Doomsday Book in 1086 Glastonbury was the wealthiest monastery in England.

Much of this monastery was destroyed in a great fire of 1184.  To help revive the fortunes of the abbey, the monks utilised the legend of King Arthur which I will discuss in a later post.  They discovered bones in the abbey cemetery which they identified as King Arthur and his Queen, Guinevere.  Later, in 1278, these remains were reburied inside the abbey church in a ceremony attended by King Edward I.  By then, the new building had been completed in the Gothic style, and the monks were promoting pilgrimage to support the abbey.

The 14th century saw the construction of fine separate living quarters for the abbot.  Another development, particularly by 1397 when my story is set, was the monks encouragement of the legends of Joseph of Arimathea.  A well in the crypt of the Lady Chapel was named in the 14th century as Saint Joseph’s Well and plays a part in my story.  The access to this well is shown in the picture at the top.  It is possible that this ancient well influenced the location of the vetusta ecclesia or ancient old church built in the previous millennium.

For more on the history of Glastonbury Abbey, click on or on .