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Glastonbury Abbey

History

Blessed Sacrament windowThe Abbey is steeped in 2000 years of history and legend. In
the 6th Century, when the followers of Augustine set out to convert England, it is said that they found a Christian community already established in Glastonbury, possibly formed by Joseph of Arimathea, fleeing persecution after the death of Christ. Across the years it grew in power and wealth as well as influence. It was the last Abbey to be destroyed at the Dissolution, and the last abbot, Richard Whiting, was hanged on the Tor as a warning to all not to oppose the wishes of King Henry VIII.

This has been a place of pilgrimage across the centuries, thanks to a long list of impressive religious connections. Shrines and relics once filled this great church. Notable among them were St Joseph of Arimathea, St Patrick, St David and St Dunstan, a former abbot and builder of one of the earliest cloisters in Britain here at the Abbey. Perhaps more famous still in the present day, we can boast of the possible burial place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, discovered in 1191 and reburied in a marble tomb by King Edward I in a place of honour before the high altar.

 

Architecture

The first historic records from the 7th Century, tell of
the Vetusta Ecclesia, possibly of wattle and daub construction, or of wood, which remained on this site, highly venerated, until the disastrous fire of 1184 which destroyed the original buildings. Rebuilding began immediately on the Lady Chapel, consecrated in 1186, built in the transitional Norman style, which survives in remarkably good condition today. Less well preserved but equally impressive are the remains of the Great Church, whose huge central tower walls still point skywards. The layout of the monastic buildings can still be seen and there is a fine 14th Century Abbot’s kitchen which survives almost intact. In its day this was the richest and most powerful Abbey in the land, 70ft longer than Westminster Abbey.

Attractions

Today the Abbey ruins are set amid 36 acres of beautiful
and peaceful parkland in the centre of the ancient, yet still strangely vibrant, market town of Glastonbury. The Abbey hosts two annual pilgrimages, Catholic and Anglican, and is still used for weekly services either in the crypt of the 12th Century Lady Chapel or in the tiny medieval church of St Patrick, which once served the almshouses here. Nestled at the foot of Glastonbury Tor it provides a haven of peace and tranquillity for all. There are walks through the park which take the visitor past badger setts and ponds, through orchards and herb gardens, around the
ruins and the new plantings of native wildflowers and grasses bringing colour and life all year round. There are 250 mature trees in our arboretum which provide a colourful autumnal focus as well as shade on hot summer afternoons. Glastonbury is also famous for the Glastonbury Thorn tree, said to have grown from the Staff of St Joseph when he arrived here. It flowers at Christmas, as well as Easter and a cutting is sent to the Queen every year to decorate her Christmas table.

Our costumed guides give guided tours to Education groups, All Age Learners, and general visitors, including talks in the Abbot’s Kitchen, from March until October.

Local Interest

Rural Life Museum (Currently closed)
Lake Village Museum
Chalice Well
Glastonbury Tor
Cheddar Gorge
Wells Cathedral