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Glastonbury Abbey

Visited August 2017

Location Glastonbury, Somerset
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby No 
Parking Yes
Facilities Cafe, Shop, Toilets





Music festival aside, the town of Glastonbury in Somerset is famous for the Tor- a hill topped by the tower of St Michael, and the ancient abbey site. The abbey was founded sometime before 670 by Britons, not Saxons and this possibly accounts for the legends of the Holy Grail and the burial place of King Arthur which are associated with it.






None of the original 7th century buildings remains, most of the buildings left on the abbey site today are dated to the 12th century. This was the result of a fire in 1184 which destroyed most of the existing buildings and necessitated a rebuild. Nevertheless the connection with the early abbey is maintained due to the legend that it was founded in the 1st century by Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus who was responsible for His burial. It is said that Joseph came to Glastonbury with his followers and founded the abbey. He supposedly had the Holy Grail with him and so for that reason the abbey was regarded a place of pilgrimage right from its very beginnings. 


The monks very much encouraged this, and the abbey enjoyed an increase of funds due to the association with the legend. However after the fire in 1184 the amount of visitors decreased, and so it is thought that the fortunately-timed discovery of the graves of King Arthur and Guinevere in 1191 provided a renewed boost to visitor numbers. At this point the idea was born that Glastonbury was ancient Avalon, burial place of the king. The association of Glastonbury and Avalon still exists to this day. As with Tintagel Castle, fans of King Arthur still flock to the site.


Glastonbury Abbey became so rich due to the increase of visitors that by the 14th century it was second only to Westminster Abbey in terms of wealth. This can be noted by the quality of the surviving buildings. For example the abbots kitchen is a fantastic building- stone built with a large pyramid roof and four fire places, it is the best preserved medieval kitchen in Europe. 


As well as this wealth and the money spent on the buildings, the abbey was said to be in good spiritual order at the time of the dissolution. The last abbot Richard Whiting was held in high esteem by this peers and was considered to have kept a sober and orderly monastic house. Abbot Richard had been told that he would be spared the dissolution because of this but in 1539 he was sent to the Tower of London for resisting the closure of the abbey. He was found guilty of vague charges of treason and was hung , drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor. This was an incredibly cruel death of an elderly and pious man which led to his beatification in 1895 and he is considered a martyr by the Catholic church.







The dissolution of the abbey led to the buildings being ransacked and used for stone to build other local buildings. It was at this time that the alleged bones of King Arthur and Guinevere were lost, so for those of you wondering about how the Arthurian connection has survived, it is because with no traces of the remains it was impossible to put them under proper scrutiny. Probably for the best as it would most likely have exposed the monks 'convenient' discovery as a medieval hoax designed to make money for the abbey. 


The abbey was bought by the Diocese of Bath & Wells in 1908 and repairs were begun. Work was done to repair the Lady Chapel, and although it remains roofless it still has in tact walls and a beautiful arched door way. The crypts can be reached and an altar has been installed and services are still held within.


The abbey grounds are about 36 acres in total which include the ruins, two fishponds and a nature trail. In summer months there is an outdoor cafe serving sandwiches and light meals.




A trip to the abbey can easily be combined with a trip up Glastonbury Tor. In fact if your children are old enough to handle the steep climb then I would say it is essential to visit both. It takes about 15-20 minutes to climb up the paths to the top, that is at a moderate pace- I am sure it can be done much quicker by some. At the top of the Tor is the ruined tower of St Michael's church, and spectacular views over Somerset. We went up the Tor on our arrival in Glastonbury at 9am and there were already people at the top. By 11am we were in the abbey grounds but could see a steady flow of people going up the Tor. So our best advice to beat the crowds is to go early, but it is a popular site so I would not be surprised if there were already people up there at first light, you would be lucky to get solitude up there, especially in the summer!


Please note there is no parking directly below the Tor, you need to park in one of the town car parks and then walk to the foot path. Alternatively there is a shuttle bus to the bottom of the Tor, but it really is not that far from the town centre if you want to walk it.





More info:  Glastonbury Abbey

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