Located in the West Country, on the plains of Somerset Levels, not far from the Bristol Channel, Glastonbury is one of the oldest sacred sites in England. Its history is intertwined with the Holy Grail and Arthurian legends. The site includes an abbey, town, and Glastonbury Tor, a terraced volcanic rock topped with the remains of an old church tower.
The area is believed to rest at the intersection of powerful ley lines of earth energy. Its mystical lore draws numerous pilgrims and visitors from around the world. Archaeological evidence indicates the area was inhabited from the third or fourth century BC; the site may have been sacred to the Druids. The town was nearly on an island, surrounded by marshlands, until the sixteenth century, suggesting it may have been associated with the mysterious island of Avalon in Arthurian lore.
Various legends are associated with the Tor. One holds that King Arthur once had a stronghold atop the Tor, which provided entrance to Annwn, the underworld. Monks built a church there during the Middle Ages; it was destroyed in an earthquake. The present remains are of a later church. According to another legend, Chalice Well, located at the base of the Tor, is said to have been built by the Druids. Its reddish, mineral-laden waters are reputed to have magical powers. Another legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea, the great-uncle of Jesus, brought the boy Jesus on a trip to Glastonbury, and later built Britain's first aboveground Christian church below the Tor. He threw the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper into the Chalice Well (see Holy Grail).
The abbey was founded in the fifth century. St. Patrick, the legendary founder, is said to have lived and died there and was buried there. Various churches were built at the site over the centuries. The last, dating from the 13th or 14th century, was destroyed under Henry VIII, who closed down all the abbeys and monasteries in 1539 after his split with the Catholic church. In the ruins of it, the famous Glastonbury Thorn blooms every year, said to be the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, which took root when he leaned upon it.
Arthur and Guinevere are buried in secret graves on the abbey grounds, according to legend. In 1190 monks found remains of a man and the inscription, 'Here lies the renowned Arthur in the Isle of Avalon'. The bones were reburied in a black marble tomb in 1278, which was destroyed in the dissolution of the abbey in 1539.
The ruins of Glastonbury were purchased by the Church of England in 1907 for excavation under the direction of Frederick Bligh Bond. Bond was extraordinarily successful in locating unknown chapels and parts of the abbey, and concluded that the abbey's construction had involved sacred geometry known by the builders of the Egyptian pyramids and passed down through the stonemasons. Bond claimed to have received helpful information from the spirits of monks who had lived there and who communicated to him through automatic writing (see Glastonbury scripts andpsychic archaeology). Bond's belief that Glastonbury is connected to Stonehenge and Avebury by leys has been upheld by modern ley investigators; the entire theory of leys, however, remains controversial.
In 1929 it was discovered that natural formations in the Glastonbury area recreate the twelve signs of the zodiac (see Glastonbury zodiac). The origins of the patterns are unknown.
Glastonbury is the site of Christian pilgrimages and seasonal rituals practiced by ritual magicians, witches, and pagans, and of various occult and spiritual festivals. Bright and fiery lights have been seen hovering over the Tor. They may be some form of unexplained natural energy. UFO watchers believe that they are connected with extraterrestrial spacecraft.
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