Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Glastonbury
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Market town in Somerset, southwest England, on the River Brue, 8 km/5 mi southwest of Wells; population (2001) 8,400. Light industries include injection moulding, and the production of footwear and leather goods. Tourism and warehousing are also important. Glastonbury Tor, a hill crowned by a ruined 14th-century church tower, rises to 159 m/522 ft. Glastonbury lake village, occupied from around 150 BC to AD 50, lies 5 km/3 mi to the northwest.

Glastonbury Abbey, originally established in the 4th or 5th century, is thought to be on the site of the earliest Christian foundation in England, traditionally established by St Joseph of Arimathaea in about AD 63. Glastonbury has been associated with Avalon, said in Celtic mythology to have been the burial place of the legendary King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. The Glastonbury Festival is a pop music festival held outside the town most Junes; in 1998 it received the Best Musical Event award in the NME (New Musical Express) Awards.

Glastonbury Abbey According to tradition, Joseph brought the Holy Grail, the chalice of the Last Supper containing the blood of Jesus, to Glastonbury and established the first church here, known as the Vetusta Ecclesia. Other churches were later built on the same site. An abbey was established in about 708 by the Saxon king Ine, and St Dunstan, who became abbot of Glastonbury in about 940, introduced the Benedictine order. The early buildings of the abbey were destroyed by a fire in 1184, and a large abbey church was built. An important centre of pilgrimage in medieval times, the abbey fell into ruins after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Remains include the Abbots' Gate, part of the central tower, the walls of the Lady Chapel, and the 14th-century Abbot's Kitchen.

In the grounds of the abbey is a thorn tree which flowers at Christmas and in the spring. It is said to have grown from a cutting from the original Glastonbury Thorn which, according to tradition, sprang from Joseph's staff. The original thorn tree was cut down by the Puritans.

The remains of the Benedictine abbey were excavated in 1963 and the site of the reputed burial place of Arthur and Guinevere was thought to have been identified. In 1191 the monks claimed to have found Arthur's grave in their cemetery, asserting that, guided by a hint from a Welsh poet, they had discovered a stone slab with a lead crucifix inscribed with the legend ‘King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon’. Under this was alleged to be a coffin cut from a hollowed-out log and two skeletons, the taller with a damaged skull. These were interepreted as the remains of the king and his queen. Modern archaeological excavations suggest that the monks dug south of the Lady Chapel and identified a burial, but great doubt remains over its occupants.

The Church of England acquired the abbey later in the 20th century, and it is still the site of pilgrimage for thousands of Anglicans and Catholics.

Features Museums include the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum, housed in the 15th-century Tribunal, a building thought to have been the abbey courthouse; and the Somerset Rural Life Museum, based around the 14th-century abbey barn and farm buildings. Other features include the market cross (1846) and the George and Pilgrim's Inn (1470).

History The last abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting, was executed in 1539 on Glastonbury Tor (now the property of the National Trust) for his adherence to the Roman Catholic faith. In the 1920s the town was the venue of the first major English Festival of Music and Drama, organized by the operatic composer Rutland Boughton (1878–1960), with support from George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Beecham. The Glastonbury Fayre (now Festival) began in 1971.

images

Glastonbury

Glastonbury Abbey

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles


Full text Article Glastonbury
Brewer's Britain and Ireland

‘stronghold of the people living at Glaston’, OCelt place name Glaston , possibly meaning ‘woad place’ + -inga- ( see -ING ) + OE byrig ...

Full text Article Glastonbury
The Bloomsbury Dictionary of English Literature

A town in Somerset where there are the ruins of a great Benedictine abbey. In prehistoric times it was almost a lake island, being set in a...

Full text Article Glastonbury
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

51 09N 2 43W A market town in SW England, in Somerset. Here by tradition Joseph of Arimathea founded England's first Christian church;...

See more from Credo