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24 September 2014
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Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey

David Burke
Glastonbury boasts the remains of a once formidable and mighty Benedictine Abbey. David Burke, a member of the Clifton Diocese, which covers Somerset as well as Bristol, tells us all about it.


The Isle of Avalon around Glastonbury is dominated by the Tor.

The remains of a pilgrims' chapel, dedicated to St Michael the archangel, who defeats the powers of darkness, perches on top of the Tor, appearing dramatic as you approach.

Avalon conjures up scenes of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, plus many myths and legends in an area famous nowadays for the Glastonbury Festival.

However, Glastonbury boasts the remains of a formidable Benedictine Abbey church in its midst.

Caring for the Abbey

Said by H V Morton to be the "once mighty Abbey, the elder brother of Westminster and the birthplace of Christianity in England", Henry VIII has much to answer for, with his destruction of such places at the dissolution of the monasteries.

Glastonbury Abbey (David Burke)
The Abbey is set in peaceful acres of parkland

Set in 36 beautifully peaceful acres of parkland, in the centre of the gentle market town, the Abbey has been owned by the Church of England since 1907, when it was purchased by public subscription.

The church now cares for the Abbey with affection.

In his travel book In Search of England, H V Morton wrote: "St Mary's Chapel, the site of the first church built by British Christians." He questioned why the owners had not restored the chapel.

I asked about this of the deputy custodian Francis Thyer, who told me that the original Trust deed stated that the Abbey should be kept more or less as it was taken over, and kept as a place of peace and quiet thereafter.

There have been suggestions over the years that it be restored, but even English Heritage would find it difficult to support such a move, let alone there being enough finance to achieve it.

What to see

Rising sheer from the grass is the great arch of the central tower of the Abbey. Seen with the sun lighting up its warm stone, and the back cloth of a blue sky, it is indeed a beautiful spectacle.

What to see? There is the Abbot's Kitchen, remarkably well preserved, square at the bottom, with a fire and enormous chimney across each corner, rising to a central octagonal lantern through which the smoke and smells from the peat fires escaped.

Glastonbury Abbey (David Burke)
The church now cares for the Abbey

Then the Glastonbury Thorn. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea came to Glastonbury and planted his walking staff in the ground, from which sprang the Glastonbury Thorn.

Joseph was said to have brought the chalice of the Last Supper, and the Chalice Well at the Abbey became a place of pilgrimage, famous throughout the land.

Pilgrimage

In my younger days, I used to travel with the parish of St Gregory's in Cheltenham to Glastonbury for the annual Clifton diocesan pilgrimage.

Fourteen massive wooden crosses were assembled at the top of the Tor and borne on the shoulders of Knights of St Columba, and others, down to the field at the rear of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury Catholic Church in Magdalene Street.

Then Mass was held, with the crosses being kept erect during Mass.

Nowadays, in true ecumenical spirit, the Church of England allow Mass to be offered in the ruins of the Abbey Church.

The diocesan pilgrimage now includes the statue of Our Lady of Glastonbury, designed by Philip Lindsay Clark, being borne from the Tor in procession down to the Abbey for Mass.

The Diocesan Pilgrimage is normally held on the second Sunday in July.

last updated: 01/08/05
Have Your Say
Have you been to the Glastonbury Abbey? What do you think of it?
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Michael John Stuart
I have been to the abbey as a catholic I think it ought to be restored to as was its a lovely very spiritual place but please restore it

Jon Graham
I have lived in Glastonbury for the past few years and spend a lot of my time there in the beautiful surroundings. But I have a question for you.....do you know of any records of the monks who were at the abbey when it was dissolved in 1539?

Lucia Forge
Glastonbury abbey is a real haven. For myself and my family it is a place of peace and joy that we are lucky enough to get to enjoy every week.(having an annual pass) A refuge from the town, cars, noise and chaos of life. I think restoration of the buildings could change all that and not for the better.

Gemma
I live in Walton village, NR glastonbury and have been there many times, it's a truely beautiful place...BUT don't miss out on the Chalice Well gardens which are spectacular, especially on Halloween!

caitlin fine st.bedes school/redhill
its really helpfull for hw iv been stuck on this for days. It would of been better if you had information on legends and facts of glastonbury like for examplethe holy thomthis,holy grail, chalice well and so on. enyway thanx 4 all the help bubi

Andrey Cliffe
Hello I am born in Cheltenham England and am in Auckland NZ and would LOVE to visit Glastonbury Abbey officially.

christopher andrew gardiner daly
I was born in frome sommerset 1945 and had some of my education in the area I have visited the glastonbury on several occations, Its a wonderful experience.

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