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June 18, 2006


Yesterday I went on my annual trip to Glastonbury. No, not for a rock fest or a new strain in New Age mysticism, or to try the latest strain of grass, joss sticks or anything like that. This is the annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury, widely acknowledged as the cradle of English Christianity. Certainly one has to acknowledge the fact that it was a sacred site in pre-Roman times and again in the late Roman period, but this "second awakening" was brought about by the establishment of a Christian community here, probably on the fringes of the British village. No one can really be sure why this place became the centre of Christianity it did, but certainly the activities of it's greates Abbot, Dunstan, will have played a major part in the early medieval period.

Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea brought the youthful Christ here in the "mystery" years missing from the Gospels, and it is legend again that says he returned here bearing the Holy Grail (NOT the Dan Brown one!) after the Crucifixion. A Jerusalem thorn tree still grows in Glastonbury in the grounds of the parish church, the present one a cloned sapling of the original which died in the 1970's and which was then dated scientifically to a date sometime in the first century. In short, it is a place in which fact and legend blur very easily, never more so when faith and belief enter into the picture.

It is here too that a grave was discovered by the monks preparing ground for the extension of the Abbey Church, which was identified by its grave goods and the bodies as that of the legendary King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. They were reburied in the Quire of the new Abbey and the site of the new grave was reopened in the 1780's and declared to be "very probably that of Arthur and his Queeen." Although I suspect by then the evidence for such a claim was long gone. The Tor which stands just outside the town has long been known as Avalon, so again fact, legend and faith blur at the edges and for some merge.

Today though the town was Christian, with a procession of witness down the High Street and in at the main gate of the ruined Abbey. Dunstan would hopefully have approved as the chidren's pilgrimage group led the way, followed by the assembled parish and other clergy, nine Bishops and servers from all over the country. The Mass celebrated under the shade of the ruined piers of the Chancel arch and the remains of the Abbey Church walls, was, as ever, very moving. The weather was kind, warm, sunny and a gentle breeze for a congregation which included people of all Christian Denominations, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Anglican all worshipping together in harmony. It is in that unity at worship that the presence of Christ is truly to be felt.

That is why, I set aside this day each year for Glastonbury. May Dunstan and all the Saints pray for us as we journey to join them.

Posted by The Gray Monk at June 18, 2006 06:17 PM

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