November 24, 2015

Glastonbury Legends, King Arthur’s ‘Grave’, Made Up For Cash By Monks


Those feet did not walk on England’s green and pleasant land — in ancient or any other time. 

The legend that inspired William Blake’s poem Jerusalem has been comprehensively debunked, along with all the other myths that have made Glastonbury the centre of Britain’s new-age universe.

A four-year academic study has found that the legend surrounding the Somerset town — where healing crystals, ley lines and Arthurian legend collide in a mishmash of history, romantic fiction and cod science — was actually concocted by a group of ingenious medieval monks who were desperate to raise a bit of cash.

They dreamt up their scheme in 1184, when their abbey burnt down and they needed to rebuild it. One way they drew pilgrims to their mist-shrouded backwater on the edge of the Somerset Levels was to lay claim to the legend of King Arthur and his beautiful bride Guinevere. As if that were not enough, they introduced Jesus into the equation, claiming he had been brought there as a boy by his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, whose staff turned into a tree that still flowers on Christmas Day.

The study by 31 experts, led by Roberta Gilchrist, professor of archeology at Reading University, examined archaeological excavations that took place between 1904 and 1979 but were never properly recorded at the time.

They found evidence that the monks deliberately rebuilt a wooden church in archaic style to make it appear far older than it was to help their claim of having England’s first church.
Professor Gilchrist found no evidence that a rubble-filled pit said to be Arthur’s grave was anything more than a hole in the ground.

“The monks needed to raise money by increasing the numbers of visiting pilgrims, and that meant keeping the myths and legends alive,” she said.

“We found evidence that the monks laid out the buildings in a very distinctive way to emphasise the ‘earliest church’ story. This occupied the site of the legendary early church allegedly founded by Joseph of Arimathea.

“The monks deliberately designed the rebuilt church to look older to demonstrate its ancient heritage. This swelled pilgrim numbers, and the abbey’s coffers. It was a strategy that paid off: Glastonbury abbey became the second richest monastery in England by the end of the Middle Ages.”

The study claims that Raleigh Radford, the archeologist who excavated Glastonbury Abbey in the 1950s and 1960s, was among those taken in by the myths. He believed that he had found the location of the grave allegedly discovered by Glastonbury monks in 1181 that they claimed belonged to Arthur.

Professor Gilchrist said: “It is likely the judgment of excavators like Radford was clouded by the abbey myths.”

The study provide some new archaeological insights into the history of Glastonbury, including evidence of occupation 200 years earlier than previously supposed. It also found evidence of a previously unknown 8th century glassmaking. 

The discoveries are to be incorporated into guides to the abbey.

By Simon De Bruxelles

With many thanks to The Australian
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