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GLASTONBURY TOR, Somerset



This place is free to view. A footpath leads to the top of the hill, but be prepared for a fairly steep climb. Once at the top there is usually always some form of a brisk breeze any time of the year. The top commands excellent views which can obviously best be appreciated on a clear day. Thousands of people per year walk to the top of the Tor, many mysteriously drawn to do so, probably as the symbol of the Tor and the hill on which it stands has come to embody for many the mystical/religious/spiritual/historical qualities that Glastonbury offers to all its visitors.

The word 'tor' means a hill or rocky peak particularly associated with Devon & Cornwall (UK), and is also believed to be based on the Gaelic word 'tor' meaning bulging hill.

This Tor is located just outside Glastonbury Town and is constructed on top of grassed-terraced volcanic rock, with a height of approximately 159 Metres (522 ft ). On the top stands a tower, which is the remains of a church. Originally monks, some say a warlord, built a church or fortification there in the Middle Ages but this was destroyed by an earthquake/landslide on 11 September AD1275. The archaeologist Philip Raht strongly believes that it was originally a monastic settlement, a conclusion he came to after three seasons excavating the top area of the Tor. The tower that stands there now was built as a replacement in the AD1360's and dedicated to St. Michael (Soldier of God and victor of Paganism).

In the recent 1960's excavations suggested that a sixth-century fortress or at least a stronghold stood on the site of the Tor, which for some supports another legend connected with the Tor, that it was the location of the stronghold belonging to 'Melwas', who is credited in one of the many Arthurian legends as the man who abducted 'Guinevere' .

The Tor has many legends associated with it, and include it being a strong hold of 'King Arthur', guarding the entrance to the Underworld known as 'Annwn'. Another legend tells of the Tor being the home of 'Gwynn ap Nudd'. In later folk legends he has been referred to as the 'The Faery King' along with another legend when 'Avallach' was deemed to be the Lord of the Underworld. During the twelfth-century many folk tales were written down for the first time and told about the top of the Tor being a place of faery visions and magic.

There have over the centuries been offered many theories that the hill itself is/was hollow and that this in turn has led to the legends that it was the entrance to the underworld or the place of the 'Sleeping Lord'. Some scholars have even suggested that St. Collen himself had his hermitage on the slopes of the Tor by a spring. At the base of the Tor is what is known as the 'Chalice Well', where according to legend Joseph of Arimathea threw the Chalice. It is argued by Messrs. Miller & Broadhurst (AD1989) that the valley between the Tor and 'Chalice Hill' had two springs 'Blood Spring' and 'White Spring' which may have joined in the area now known as 'Chalice Well Gardens'. Chambers that lie towards the back of the spring have been tentatively explored by cavers who have found evidence to indicate that this may have in fact been another entrance point to the Tor ,which lends supports to the legends that the Tor hill itself is/was hollow. Extensive caving has not been undertaken to date as many of the chambers have over the years collapsed.

'Dion Fortune' a leading occultist also lived at the base of the Tor and believed it to be place of great 'Celtic Otherworld' connections.

On 'Weary-All Hill' also located near the Tor, legend has it that it was here Joseph of Arimathea thrust his staff into the ground where upon it took root and grew into the 'Holy Thorn' tree which only blossomed at Christmas. This type of tree is known as 'Crataegus oxyacantha'. Cuttings from this thorn tree still grow in and around the Glastonbury area and flower at Christmas and Easter, although the original was cut down during Cromwell's reign. Christmas blossom is cut from a holy thorn that stands in the grounds of St. Johns Church and sent to the Queen to be placed on the breakfast table at Buckingham Palace on Christmas Day, (a custom believed to date back to Queen Anne).

Legendary Glastonbury, in Southwest England's county of Somerset, was once known as the Isle of Avalon. The place has been sacred long before the dawn of recorded history. Ancient Celtic religious leaders performed rituals here, and legends tell of tunnels leading into the realm of the elves and fairies. Glastonbury is also associated with Jesus, King Arthur and UFOs.

Dominating the skyline is Glastonbury Tor, a 170 meter (550 ft.) hill. Some say it was manmade, an engineering accomplishment to rival the great pyramid of Egypt. Certainly it was sculpted by human hands -- a labyrinth pattern was cut into the hillside during the Neolithic era. On top of the Tor is St. Michael's Tower all that remains of a church built in the 14th century and restored in 1804. There have been several reports of mysterious lights seen above the Tor. A local policeman saw "eight egg-shaped objects ... hovering in formation over the hill" and another observer reported "several green and mauve lights hovering around the tower." Martin Gray says he slept in the tower one night, during which he saw "the interior of the tower radiantly aglow with a luminous white light."

A Christian legend says that, when he was a child, Jesus visited Glastonbury with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. Lyrics to the hymn O Jerusalem, by William Blake, echo the story: "And did those feet in ancient times walk upon England's pastures green..." It is also said that Joseph returned to Glastonbury with the Apostle Philip in 37 c.e. Joseph supposedly leaned on his walking stick, which took root on Wirrall Hill and grew into a thorn tree, which bloomed every Christmas until Puritans chopped it down in the17th century. Joseph and Philip are credited with building the first Christian church in England, on the site where the abbey was later constructed.

An abbey has existed since at least the 5th century c.e. The most recent, built in the 13th century, was destroyed in 1539, on orders from Henry VIII. The previous abbey was destroyed by fire in 1190, and during the clean-up, two ancient coffins were discovered, which were believed to contain the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. A lead cross in one of the oak coffins was inscribed, "Here lies the famous King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon."

Chalice Well is so named because Joseph of Arimathea is said to have hidden the chalice of the Last Supper, the Holy Grail, in the water, which flows from a natural spring. Miraculous cures have been credited to the healing waters of the well. The design motif on the well is the vesica piscis, an ancient, pre-Christian symbol, which evolved into the Christian fish. It represents the blending of masculine and feminine, the yin and yang, and the meeting-place of the conscious and unconscious.

Glastonbury has been a sacred place for more than 5,000 years, since Britons first worshipped the Great Goddess. About 300 bce, the Tor was known as Ynis Witrin, or Isle of Glass. The name Avalon derives from Avallah, a Celtic god of the underworld. There is an ancient legend about a glass mountain where fairies dwell. Could Glastonbury Tor be the same place?

In the book Sacred Britain, A Guide to the Sacred Sites and Pilgrim Routes of England, Scotland and Wales, Martin Palmer and Nigel Palmer write that in Glastonbury, "you can find the highest concentration of religious nonsense and spiritual tat in Britain. But you can also find people who are working to make sense of an insensitive world, who find here a place of great spiritual power and who have helped us rediscover the sacredness of this landscape." Martin Gray says, "Glastonbury is a power place of potent transformational energies."

 

Glastonbury, a small town about 125 miles or 220 km west of London, is full of myth and legend. In ancient times, Glastonbury lay in a triangle with the enormous stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury - between them they formed a world energy-point. Great circle lines go from Glastonbury to many sacred centres worldwide.

Glastonbury has long been a pilgrimage place, attracting travellers from far and wide. It was a pilgrimage place in Druidic times (2,000-2,500 years ago) and further back in Megalithic times, 4,000 years ago.

A prominent site in town is the Glastonbury Tor (tor means rocky hill or peak). The Tor has many legends connected to it. One says that it was the location of King Arthur's stronghold. Another legend says that it is the home of the Faery King and that the top of the Tor was a place of fairy visions and magic. A Celtic legend says that the hill is hollow and that the top guards the entrance to the Underworld, as well as being the home of the Lord of the Underworld, Gwyn ap Nudd.

Glastonbury is also believed to be the place known in Authurian lore as the Isle of Avalon. According to the legend, Arthur, after being mortally wounded by Mordred, was taken by a sacred boat to Avalon. And it is in Avalon that Arthur awaits the day when Britain requires his services as the "once and future king".

Glastonbury's myths and legends - there are so many. But one story, with its various extensions and frills, stands out amongst the rest. It concerns Joseph of Arimethea, the Holy Grail, the introduction of Christianity to Britain, and the fight to preserve it against paganism.

Joseph appears in our modern bibles but once - as the benefactor who paid for Jesus' tomb. But tradition gives him much greater depth (these traditions are not just local to Glastonbury - separate traditions in Cornwall, in Syria and in Galatia strengthen their provenance). The tradition has Joseph as uncle to Mary, mother of Jesus. He was a Roman citizen - a "decurion". This was a rank most commonly held by traders - particularly metal merchants.

The bible contains a curious gap concerning the life of the young Jesus. We see him at the age of twelve, astonishing the elders with his knowledge and wisdom. Then the story leaps forward 18 years to the beginning of his ministry. What happened in between?

Tradition states that during this time, Joseph of Arimethea took the lad into his business, to show him the world. The world of a metal merchant of that time would inevitably include Britain. Although not yet part of the Roman Empire, it was already one of the most important sources for lead & tin - with some silver and iron to be found as well. If this much is true, Joseph would have brought the lad to the Mendips and to Glastonbury. This last site would already have been a holy site of some kind, perhaps of Druidism, perhaps of some unknown religion.

There is no tradition that Jesus did anything special while he was here, although some versions of the tale say that he returned for a second visit, without Joseph, at a later date (but before beginning his ministry).

After the crucifixion, and Joseph's involvement in the mystery of the open tomb, it is said that Joseph fled Palestine, to evade the threat now gathering over those associated with Jesus. Some say he took his niece, Mary, with him. In all versions of the tale, he carried with him the Holy Grail - generally supposed to be the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, although some suggest that it was a vial of Jesus' blood. It would have made sense to go somewhere he knew, but somewhere outside the (then) Empire. Britain (and Glastonbury) fits the bill.

When Joseph landed on the island of Avalon (at the time, Glastonbury would risen above flood waters for most of the year), he set foot on Wearyall Hill - just below the Tor. Exhausted, he thrust his staff into the ground, and rested. By the morning, his staff had taken root - leaving a strange oriental thorn-bush on Wearyall. (Today, a scion of this tree - the "Holy Thorn" - remains, as well as another in the grounds of St.John's church in the middle of town.)

Thereafter, Joseph established a Christian church in Glastonbury, dedicated to Our Lady (his niece). If so, this (the "the Wattle Church") would have been the earliest Christian church, anywhere in Christendom.

As for the Grail, its fate was a mystery - hence the Quest for the Grail. This Quest is central to the fuller tradition of Arthurian legends; Arthur's knight rode off in pursuit of this unknowable object. If they found it, they would transcend their base natures and get a better knight's sleep, or something.

At any rate, there is a Chalice Well in Glastonbury, running with red-tinged water, to which has been credited many miracles, mostly small, personal ones.

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CHALICE HILL and WELL, 
GLASTONBURY
Somerset


A vesica piscis to remember...

 

The Chalice Well Garden, just beneath the benevolent and awesome profile of Glastonbury Tor, truly is one of the loveliest and peaceful places on earth.

On one level, The Garden is disarmingly simple and humble -- just several acres of informal English gardening, with nothing very spectacular in the way of garden design, no exotic or rare plants to impress the visitor.

The centerpiece of the garden, of course, is the well. Much folklore and myth surrounds this well which, because of an unusually high iron content, seems to give forth water that is ever so slightly tinged with blood --(which the Chrisian folk believe to be the blood of Christ, of course.) The towering myth surrounding this well holds that here is where the Holy Grail finally found its resting place -- hidden within the well and it will not be rediscovered until the hour of England's greatest need (presumably the same 'hour' when Arthur shall return!).

Along with the folklore of the Grail, the Chalice Well is held to have great curative powers, and is supernaturally gifted, as a well, so that it will never run dry -- and supposedly in recent drought years, that has indeed been the case. Approximately 25,000 gallons of water flow each day from the well.

The Chalice Well is a place where serenity seems to reign and, where one may retreat to spend a few moments trying to become just a little bit closer to the Gods. Chalice Well Garden, therefore, is itself a 'chalice' -- a cup holding the presence of Divinity.


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