Archive for May, 2021

History of Glastonbury, Part 2

Monday, May 24th, 2021

The topic of this posting is the history, starting with the Norman Conquest, of Glastonbury, Somerset, site of Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, fifth book in my Lady of Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  In my last posting, describing the history of the town in its first millennium, I included several legends along with actual history.  Glastonbury’s history as we move into the second millennium becomes more solid.

In the middle ages, the town was centered around an important monastery called Glastonbury Abbey, largely just a ruin today.  The map, shown above, illustrates how the medieval town grew up around the abbey grounds.  A marketplace developed near the northwest corner of the abbey grounds and to the south where Magdalene Street was quite wide.  The town provided support to the abbey, but it was an important medieval wool trade center as well.  I will speak more of the abbey in my next posting.  Almost all the remains of the buildings on the abbey grounds are ruins, thanks to the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century by King Henry VIII.

Other medieval buildings still exist in the town which give us some insight into various aspects of medieval life.  They include two ancient parish churches, some almshouses, and several abbey buildings outside the actual abbey grounds.  On the north side of the High Street is the Tribunal, shown above, with me standing in the doorway.  The Tribunal gets its name from the possibility that it was used as a court, either by the abbey or as a secular court venue, but this is not well documented.  Similarly, it may have been used by one of the abbots as a hospice, or perhaps it was just a medieval merchant’s dwelling.  It now houses the local tourist information office and the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum.

The present-day George Hotel and Pilgrims’ Inn, shown on the left, is a few buildings to the west of the Tribunal.  It was the medieval abbey’s Pilgrims’ Inn and provided a place for many of the pilgrims who visited the abbey to stay during their visit.  The building survived the dissolution of the monasteries and became the George Hotel in the 19th century.  These earlier names are preserved in the present title.  The abbey’s coat of arms, as well as that of King Edward IV, is above the door.

Another abbey building to survive in Glastonbury is its tithe barn shown below, located southeast of the abbey grounds.  Further afield, there are other buildings related to the abbey and medieval life, including the abbey fish house, the abbot’s summer residence, and the parish church, which was built by Glastonbury Abbey, several miles away in the village of Meare.  There can be no doubt that medieval life in Glastonbury was not only centered around the abbey, but the abbey was also intertwined with some of the surrounding area.

In Glastonbury itself, the abbey’s influence is felt in other medieval buildings which still exist.  The abbey was involved with the creation and operation of St. John’s Parish Church on the High Street and its daughter church, St. Benedict’s, to the west of the abbey.  Because of the strong involvement of the abbey in parish affairs, St. John’s was sometimes caught between the local abbot and the Bishop of Wells and Bath in whose diocese Glastonbury is situated.  There was a picture of St. John’s in my recent posting of April 26.

Finally, the medieval town often turned to the abbey for support.  There are remnants of two medieval almshouses along Magdalene Street which runs along the west side of the abbey grounds.  Just inside the main gate to the abbey are almshouses for women, shown on the right side of the picture on the right.  The Hospital of St. Mary Magdalene, also on Magdalene Street, was originally built by the abbey as almshouses for ten men, some of whom were pilgrims to the abbey.

In my next posting. I will focus on the history and some wonderful legends of the abbey.

History of Glastonbury, Part 1

Monday, May 10th, 2021


My next postings feature topics from the history of Glastonbury, Somerset, the setting of Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  Unlike the other settings for my books, the Romans were not a major presence in Glastonbury, but the Fosse Way, a Roman road connecting Lincolnshire in the north to Devonshire in the southwest, passed just to the east of Glastonbury.  This area has involved human habitation since at least the Bronze Age.

There was a Lake Village of about a hundred persons before the Roman period a couple of miles northwest of the present town.  Their homes floated on water which at high tide connected with the Bristol Channel, now a dozen miles away.  This is shown on the map at the top.  In the last posting I wrote about legends of Joseph of Arimathea coming to Glastonbury from the Holy Land after the resurrection of Christ.  This map shows that according to these legends, he could have come by water in the first century A.D., before land was later reclaimed from the sea, as land has been reclaimed from water in East Anglia or in the Netherlands.

Glastonbury Tor is an ancient hilltop just to the east of the town, towering over it in the picture shown below, which is on the cover of my book.  The Tor would have dominated the scene to the east as one would have approached Glastonbury by water two thousand years ago.  Remains atop the Tor have been detected from the Saxon period.  Today one will see that the Tor has on its top just a tower, the remains of a medieval priory which plays an important role in my story.

Besides the legends of Joseph of Arimathea coming to Glastonbury, there are other interesting legends that do not involve Joseph.  The monks of Glastonbury Abbey claimed in the late 12th century to have found the remains of the legendary King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in the abbey graveyard.  These remains were eventually reburied in a tomb in the quire of the abbey church near the crossing.  This reburial ceremony was important enough that King Edward I of England and Queen Eleanor attended it.

In the ruins of the abbey church, there is a sign commemorating Arthur’s tomb as shown in the picture below.  It is of interest that this legend arose shortly after a fire had done much damage to the abbey, perhaps the legends grew to stimulate pilgrimage and bring wealth to the abbey.  A related legend involving King Arthur and Queen Guinivere was that Glastonbury Tor, rising as it did out of the water at the time of King Arthur, was the Isle of Avalon.


There is evidence of habitation at Glastonbury as early as the 5th century A.D. when Irish monks formed a monastery at Beckery on the southwest corner of modern Glastonbury.  Further settlement was in the center of Glastonbury by around AD 700 when it was named Glestingaburg.  Glastonbury Abbey had its origins by the 7th century, although the legends of Joseph of Arimathea claim that he founded the first monastery.

The first stone church at the abbey site probably dates from the early eighth century and was enlarged in the 10th century by Abbot Dunstan before he became Archbishop of Canterbury.  Other highlights from the Saxon period include the burials in the Abbey of King Edmund in 967 and King Edmund Ironside in 1016.

In the next posting I will continue discussing the history of Glastonbury after the conquest of England in 1066 by the Norman, William the Conqueror.