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July 10, 2004

Glastonbury Pilgrimage


The second Saturday of July is the day I take myself to Glastonbury every year - not to a "Rock" concert but on a pilgrimage to the ancient Abbey, one time home of Saint Dunstan, (909AD - 988AD), who reformed the monastic orders in England and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. He was involved in the coronation of Aetheldred the Unrede (Or "the Unready" as "1066 and all that" has him titled!). Possibly one of the least glorious periods in the history of Saxon England.

The title "the Unrede" means simply that he would not listen to advice. A bit like a certain current Prime Minister.

Returning to Glastonbury: it is a site that has many legends attached to it, and of recent years the "New Age" and "Pagan" movements have tried to reclaim it as theirs. This is unfortunate, since in reality the archeology does not support their claims to it having been a druidic site in pre-Christian or pre-Roman times. There was certainly a settlement here in the pre-Roman period going back as far as the early iron age. The land here was very swampy, being very low lying in places, and the Tor is thought to have once been an "island" in the surrounding swamp. It is currently crowned by an 11th Century Church Tower, but there are indications that it was an iron age hill fort, albeit a small one.

The Abbey at Glastonbury has always been a place of special meaning to Christians, particularly in England, for two very good reasons. First, legend has it that this is where Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail, and it is here that a Jerusalem Thorn tree grew, purportedly from Joseph's staff. Today the original tree is dead, but a new tree, slipped from the old, grows in its stead. Second, legend says that this is the Isle of Avalon and is the burial place of King Arthur and his Queen. In support of this the medieval monks went to some lengths to find Arthur's grave and reportedly did so atop the Tor. The bodies they found were of a tall man in ancient armour (remember this was in around 1200, so they were probably talking about Roman style armour) with his shield and spear, but, significantly, no sword. Next to him lay a woman in her finery, and the two bodies were carefully removed and reburied in a place of honour in the Presbytery, or Quire, of the Abbey Church.

As a place of pilgrimage the Abbey grew rich, and this did not do much for the spirtuality of the monks. By the time of the dissolution, its reputation was not high in terms of spiritual development.

Today it is still a place of pilgrimage, and today a group of us from Tewkesbury will visit this Mother House of the Benedictine Order, one time home of Dunstan and many other remarkable men of faith, and meet with a large body of pilgrims who have travelled from all over the UK to celebrate our faith together in a full Solemn Eucharist. It is a remarkable and uplifting experience to share this Mass in the open ruins of this great Abbey Church, to sing God's praise in a place that has been used for worship of Him and of His Son for more than 1500 years.

And maybe, just maybe, the legend is true and our Saviour Himself once walked among these very hills.


Posted by The Gray Monk at July 10, 2004 10:02 AM