Visiting Glastonbury Abbey

What to expect for visitors - make an informed visit

Glastonbury Abbey Ruins

Glastonbury Abbey Ruins


Glastonbury Abbey Overview

Glastonbury Abbey was established as a Benedictine monastery during the years 670 to 678 AD. Prior to that time, it had existed, for many years, as a Celtic religious centre.

 

According to legend, 2000 years ago Joseph of Arimathea (Christ's uncle) is supposed to have brought the young Jesus here.


On Joseph's second visit, after Christ's death, he built the first Christian church, at Glastonbury Abbey, (see our Glastonbury myths and legends page).

 

Visiting Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey itself is very accessible, positioned just off the main High Street. Despite its very central position, its 38 acres make it very spacious inside.


The main entrance where you pay admission fronts a large exhibition/museum which is worthwhile. From here you can explore the grounds yourself or check out when the next costumed guide will take you on a tour, (recommended).


Nearest the entrance and museum area are the ruins of the Abbey within which is King Arthur's grave and the Thorn Bush. Beyond that the grounds stretch far and you will unearth nature trails and ponds within the grounds.

Thorn  Bush On Wearyall Hill

Wearyall Hill: location of legendary Thorn Bush

 

Glastonbury Abbey history

Glastonbury Abbey has in history been one of the most important religious places in the UK. During the Christian era great numbers of pilgrims flocked to the Abbey to venerate the relics of saints and sages, the most valued relics being those of St Patrick who ended his days at Glastonbury in 461 AD.


In 1086, when the Domesday Book was commissioned to provide records and a census of life in England, Glastonbury Abbey was the richest monastery in the country.


In the 14th century, the Abbey was the second wealthiest Abbey in Britain (behind Westminster Abbey), the Abbot of Glastonbury lived in considerable splendour and wielded tremendous power.


In 1536, during the 27th year of the reign of Henry VIII, there were over 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in Britain. By 1541, there were none. Glastonbury Abbey was one of principal victims of action by the King to break with the Catholic Church and establish the more frugal Church of England without need for monks and nuns.


Glastonbury, in addition to many other places, like Tintagel, has been linked to King Arthur. This link though, at Glastonbury, is in death rather than life.

 

King Arthur at Glastonbury

Grave of King Arthur and Guinevere at Glastonbury Abbey

Final resting place?: King Arthur and
Guinevere at Glastonbury Abbey

According to legend after Arthur's many exploits and stories concerning his Knights, the Round Table and the Holy Grail, he was wounded by Mordred at the battle of Camlan.

 

This was around the year 542 and he was then taken across the water to the Isle of Avalon for his wounds to be healed.

 

Glastonbury would indeed still have been an island at that time, so it was quite possible for a boat to bring him to the only place where any medical attention was available, which would have been at a monastery - Glastonbury Abbey.

 

Arthur was mortally wounded however and it is said he was buried in the cemetery on the south side of the Lady Chapel, at Glastonbury Abbey.


Centuries later (in 1191) prompted by hints and rumours, the monks excavated this same spot in the cemetery and they dug down sixteen feet, to find an oak coffin.

 

At a depth of seven feet they found a stone beneath which was a leaden cross with an inscription 'His iacet inclitus Arturius in insula Avalonia' - variously interpreted to read 'Here lies King Arthur buried in Avalon'!

 

The coffin contained two bodies - a great man and a woman, whose golden hair was still intact, until touched, when it crumbled away. The bodies were explained as Arthur's and Guinevere's.


Cynics say the 'find' was an elaborate trick by the monks to generate publicity and funds after the Abbey was consumed by fire in 1184 when many of the ancient treasures were destroyed.


Map of Nain Sights At Glastonbury
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