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29 October 2014

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You are in: Somerset > History > History features > Historic Places > Discovering Glastonbury Abbey - the psychic way

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey

Discovering Glastonbury Abbey - the psychic way

The discovery of Glastonbury Abbey is all down to one man - Frederick Bligh Bond - and a group of people from an ethereal world.

Frederick Bligh Bond has been dubbed the man who "galvanised our cultural understanding of Glastonbury".

And writer Dorothy L Sayers once described him as " the oddest little gentleman; he sits and talks about spirituality, archaeology, the fourth dimension and the mathematical relation of form to colour, till you don’t know if you are on your head or your heels".

As Glastonbury Abbey's first appointed archaeologist when the site was purchased for the Church of England in 1908, Frederick became well known for using unusual techniques when interpreting his findings.

Frederick Bligh Bond

Frederick worked there from 1908 to 1921

His tenure at the Abbey was shrouded in controversy as he interpreted his findings in an unusual way - by 'automatic writing', which is when writing is performed without conscious thought, typically as a medium for spirits or psychic forces.

Spiritual disapproval

Born in 1864 in Marlborough, Wiltshire, Frederick followed his father's footsteps into architecture.

In fact his family played an influential part in his interests. His cousin the Rev Sabine Baring-Gould was an influential writer and antiquarian, while his brothers were interested in maths and science.

After completing his studies at Marlborough College and Bath College, Frederick's first professional work as an architect was transforming Board Schools in Barton Hill, Easton and Southville, Greenbank Elementary School and St George's School.

He also designed the schools of medicine and engineering at Bristol University and the Music School of Clifton College as well as Bristol Zoo.

But it was his work at Glastonbury Abbey which is what he is most renowned for. As the first person to conduct a meticulous archeological dig of the ruined Abbey, Frederick discovered the Edgar Chapel, North Porch and St Dunstan's Chaple.

His technique of carefully recording specific finds, including the Saxon Cross fragment which is the inspiration of the town's war memorial, was what gained Frederick international acclaim.

Glastonbury Abbey in 1907

Glastonbury Abbey in 1907

However relations with his employers turned sour when he revealed in his 1919 book, The Gates of Remembrance, that a lot of his interpretation of what he found was with the help of Captain John Allan Bartlett, a medium.

The Church of England, who strongly disapproved of spiritualism, sacked him in 1921.

Afterwards, Frederick carried on with his ecclesiastical work. The addition to the convent church at Wells and the war memorial apse at Wiveliscombe are some of the projects he undertook during his latter years.   

Inspired by his cousin, Frederick also undertook restoration work of both screens and churches.

He then undertook excavations at Hurley Priory before he died at his home in Wales in 1945.

Glastonbury Abbey is holding an exhibition of his work, including unseen correspondance,drawings and photographs until 31 August.

last updated: 11/06/2008 at 10:51
created: 10/06/2008

You are in: Somerset > History > History features > Historic Places > Discovering Glastonbury Abbey - the psychic way

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