In a few weeks time, thousands of music lovers will again be descending on the small Somerset town of Glastonbury for the music festival. Local rumour has it that Paul McCartney might take to the pyramid stage this year. For a few days a huge tented city will appear and ageing hippies and others will be able to escape their everyday lives.
However today I am going to introduce you to the town of Glastonbury rather than Michael Eavis’s farm. Tickets to the festival sold out long ago and you can no longer gain entry to Worthy farm by climbing the fence.
Glastonbury is situated on the Somerset levels a few miles from Wells. A round grass covered outcrop of sandstone known as Glastonbury tor rises to over 500 feet nearby and is visible for miles around. people have lived in the area since Neolithic times and one of the oldest roads ever discovered is close by. It is known as the sweet track after Ray Sweet who discovered it in the 1970’s. Tree trunks which were laid to provide a track over nearby marshes have been dated by dendrochronology to 3,800 BC. The peat soil preserved the wood.
Glastonbury abbey is the earliest Christian monastic site in Britain and by Domesday it was the wealthiest abbey in England. One of its abbots St. Dunstan devised the coronation service that is still used today including that for Queen Elizabeth 11. It featured in Mathew Paris’s map of the world of 1250 and continues to attract visitors from around the globe.
Glastonbury, Myths and Legends
According to local folklore the nearby camp at Cadbury was the Camelot of Arthurian legend. When Cadbury camp was excavated archaeologists found evidence that it had indeed once housed an important person. Glastonbury itself has been associated with Avalon where Arthur is said to have fought his last battle.
Monks at Glastonbury abbey claimed to have found the coffins of Arthur and Guinevere in the 12th century. However this was shortly after a fire at the abbey and the more cynical among us might think that they saw it as a good way to raise funds for the restoration. Part of the myth is that Arthur is still sleeping and that if England is in danger he will awake to save the day. There was renewed interest in this during the second world war.
Another legend about Glastonbury is that Joseph of Arimathea the man who looked after Christ’s body after the crucifixion visited Glastonbury and where he touched the ground with his walking stick a holy tree grew.
The Glastonbury thorn is a hybrid Hawthorne tree and there is a specimen in the abbey grounds.
Not your average high street
Nowadays Glastonbury is a strange mixture of Christian and Pagan. You can still visit the ruins of Glastonbury abbey and say a quiet prayer in St. Patrick’s chapel. But in the high street, shops sell crystals and magic potions. When we were there this week a group of men dressed as Morris dancers were parading through the town carrying a tree trunk which was destined to become the new maypole. Many of the female onlookers had colourful long skirts, embroidered blouses and flowers in their hair and the men had long hair and beards. We climbed up the Tor and were accompanied by a group performing some sort of eastern meditation to the sound of a single drum.
May day is an important date in the pagan calendar and I felt Harry Potter and friends would have felt at home.
If you want to find out more I recommend this website Normal for Glastonbury
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