Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Gladstonbury Tor - was it an island?

The tales and legends that whirl around Gladstonbury Tor are countless going far, far, back into the mists of time. The slopes of its conical hill are terraced - the method by which they were formed being shrouded in mystery. 
Sitting on the summit, the solitary 14th century tower of St. Michael's Church ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries

Human artefacts have been found dating back to the Iron Age Celts and Romans. During the Saxon and early medieval periods it is thought that several wooden buildings were constructed on the summit interpreted as an early church and monks' hermitage.
The Tor is the subject of Middle Age legends in particular Arthurian tales of the Holy Grail. Then it was known as Ynys yr Afalon - The Isle of Avalon, it is where in 1191 Monks from Gladstonbury Abbey alleged that they had discovered King Arthur's and Queen Guinevere's coffins! 
via
The Last Sleep of Arthur - by Edward Burne-Jones 

From the top of the Tor, on a clear day, it is possible to see the Bristol Channel, but could it be that it was once the island of mythology? 
The ancients liked their islands; islands afforded them seclusion and above all protection. Think of St. Columba, who settled on Iona, Scotland. Having been exiled from Ireland, he travelled across the sea in a wicker coracle along with 12 of his companions. He founded a monastery there in 563 AD where it is thought the Book of Kells may have been produced or begun towards the end of the 8th century. Although the Book of Kells was started after the death of St. Columba, he was known as a brilliant artist, and some of his illuminations are believed to be in the Book.
The Book of Kells - Gospel of John

Remember Lindisfarne, Northumberland, also known as Holy Island, only accessible by a causeway when the tide is out.  It is where in 635 AD Saints Aidan, Cuthbert, Eadfrith and Eadberht chose to found their monastery. Home to the Lindisfarne Gospels, presumed to be the work of Eadfrith which he is said to have produced in honour of St. Cuthbert.
Matthew the Evangelist from the Lindisfarne Gospels
Could this have been Avalon, location of the Holy Grail, harking back to ancient times? Look at this photo, the result of recent storms that have flooded the Somerset Levels - I leave you to decide. 

56 comments:

  1. Very interesting question! :-)

    Love every single one of these images, great post.

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    1. Not all questions can be answered - glad you enjoyed it Merisi.

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  2. Fascinating story, fascinating images Rosemary. The island? Probably.

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    1. Probably an island - I think is the answer too. Drainage of the Somerset Levels was carried out in the periods 1230 to 1330 and from 1770 to 1830. With the recent very heavy rainfalls, it seems possible that further drainage needs to be carried out again. However, the Levels are a renown nature reserve with an international status as one of the most important wetlands of its type in the world - a wonderful place to see wildlife and a rich habitat of wildflowers.

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  3. Really enjoyed that. I've never been I'm embarrassed to say....passed it on the M5 many times though. That last one is stunning.

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    1. Dear Em - it is quite a time since I was there myself. Like you, we normally pass by on the M5 during our trips to the West Country. Must find time to pull over and visit again ourselves.

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  4. Hello Rosemary, It does look like an island. One would think that this would be easy to prove based on marine sediments and fossils. Perhaps we can't be sure whether King Arthur was real or not, but certainly there were great events and exploits of daring and valor going on in early England, and all the names you mention in this post evoke that mysterious era.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - the Somerset levels are covered in large areas of peat marsh, and interestingly there is an ancient Neolithic causeway crossing it quite near to Gladstonbury made from timber which has been dated to the early 4th millennium BC.

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  5. It makes you think doesn't it. There have been so many variations in climate and sea level over the millennia, it could be quite possible.

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    1. Dear Jessica - seeing the recent shots of the flooding triggered off these random thoughts. I think that it was once a possibility, and might be again, unless a certain amount of draining is installed.

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  6. Dear Rosemary,very interesting post!!Lovely images of the Scotish countrysides!It looks like it was a island!!Who knows?Wish you a lovely week!
    Dimi...

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    1. Thanks Dimi for your visit and kind comment.

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  7. I loved reading this, Rosemary. Glastonbury is such a fascinating place with so much history and of course all the legends associated with it. I'd been thinking of Avalon, too, now that the whole area is flooded. I think it's very possible that it was once a sacred island.

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    1. I was thinking how interesting it is that so many of our islands do have monasteries on them, and of course Gladstonbury too has the remains of an Abbey, although on the level ground. May be it was surrounded by water at one time.

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  8. Dear Rosemary,

    What an intriguing and beautiful post. A friend who knew that I was interested in medieval monasteries gave me a book on Ionia, and your posting has inspired me to dig it out and reread it! Regarding Avalon, could it be that there was a reason to hide King Arthur's resting place, and that the story that he was buried on an island was a contemporary ruse?

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    1. Dear Mark - these are questions that remain unanswered - I pose the question was King Arthur real or was he just a myth?

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    2. That of course is the greater question. But it's nice to believe he might have been real.

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    3. There are many strange things connected with the myth. When we were in Brittany, France, we discovered that a local forest is considered to be Merlin's last resting place. Merlin created the round table which now hangs in The Great Hall in Winchester.

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  9. Thanks so much for the last few posts, Rosemary, and apologies for not commenting individually. As always your posts are so individual and well researched and beautifully illustrated. I particularly enjoyed the ones on Paisley and Lacock.

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    1. Thank you for your generous comment Perpetua - Lacock was a lovely visit last Saturday on a fine sunny day. This post came about having watched with incredulity the floods on the Somerset Levels which have been hampering life there for nearly a month.

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  10. Wonderful post Rosemary, I just love the photos and all the history - my favourite pastime. As to whether Glastonbury is an island - not sure, but your last photo could certainly give an indication that it was.
    Patricia x

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    1. Thank you Patricia - as I have mentioned in other comments this post came about after having watched so many news items regarding the flooding on the Somerset Levels. I didn't know what form the post would take as I don't plan them, they just happen as I type.

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  11. Oh the times we have driven past the sign on the M5 on our way up North. I have only been once and would love to return.

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  12. Fascinating post, Rosemary. When I was a little girl I remember asking my mother if King Arthur was real or not, and she replied "It was so long ago, nobody really knows"... and there we remain! It is intriguing how the Tor now looks like an island, and probably once was. Also intrigues me the number of other island around Britain which were holy places long ago. The Burne-Jones painting is a stunner - I love his works - and just look at those amazing wild-flowers in the foreground! Thank you for sharing these wonderful images.

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    1. Dear Patricia - I am no nearer to answering your question than your mother was.
      However, the tales connected with Iona and Lindisfarne are basically true.
      Burne-Jones always comes up trumps where there is a legend to paint, embellished, as you mentioned, with lots of wonderful wild flowers scattered to the fore.

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  13. I really like the idea that it was Avalon. I also like the idea of flying to the UK and having a visit :)

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    1. Get rid of your snow, and then come on over.

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  14. This is an interesting post with many questions. No doubt you have researched if very well, I not at all.

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    1. I write the post straight on to the computer and then make sure my facts are, hopefully, correct.

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  15. This post touched many thoughts I've been having watching the news. I love the folklore surrounding Glastonbury and that it was known as The Summerlands. Love the Last Sleep of Arthur. Thank you for sharing! x

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    1. I understand that it was given the rather beautiful name of The Summerlands because in ancient times it was too wet to use in the winter - rather like now I guess.

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  16. So interesting Rosemary, many questions arise..... but.who knows ...The last photo is really stunning , would you mind if I should ever get inspired to paint it ?

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    1. Dear Jane - the photo is not mine, but I see no reason whatsoever why you should not use it, if you do, hopefully you will show it on your blog.

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  17. Mysteries are good. No need to solve all of them.

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  18. Dear Rosemary,
    A brilliant painting by Edward Burne-Jones- It is a calm "Death" he depicted peace here I feel.. yet ,is that a strange figure I see on the right of the painting. Looking carefully, it looks like the Shroud of death. I seem to see eyes looking out of the rocks. They are waiting for him, to take him to the after life.
    The mystery of the Holy Grail. I myself think that it will be a mystery forever. It would be super to think that
    Arthur and Genevieve are to gether. I would like to think so.
    The poor people of Somerset. They need an Arthur to rescue them at the moment. Such a tradgedy.
    Lovey post Rosemary.

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    1. Dear Val - the painting is 24 feet long - absolutely enormous. Burne-Jones began painting it when he was 49 years old, and he worked on it for 17 years off and on. He was still working on it the night he died. If you copy and paste this reference into google you can see it in more detail.
      http://thetextileblog.blogspot.com/2014/01/edward-burne-jones-and-last-sleep-of.html
      The above reference I have given you shows a close up detail of the centre of the painting, and you can also see another large photo of the whole of the painting. It is possible to see that the particular part you mentioned on the righthand side is actually incomplete and that is why it looks rather mysterious and ghostly.
      Good luck - hope you can see it alright.

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  19. Fantastic images of the Tor, it always feels a magical place. Sarah x

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    1. It is a place steeped in mystery, and myths, and as you mention a magical place.

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  20. The last sleep of Arthur is very fascinating, I would want a replica for my living room.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. I hope you have a very big wall Filip - it is 24 feet long.

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  21. England is full of magical places, I think. Thanks for sharing another one with us, Rosemary. I'd always assumed (as a kid) that King Arthur existed and therefore Avalon must have existed as well - I kind of still do. Maybe this is the place. If looks were all, it would be.

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    1. There is a romance and a mystery surrounding King Arthur - I think the child in us all would like to believe that he was real.

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  22. I've often wondered about Glastonbury Tor - as Yvette says, there are many mysterious and magical places in England. Some features of the landscape look so very "unnatural" yet their origins are still not absolutely certain.

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    1. Your latest post for example - how many cliffs are there in the world with all that variety of coloured sand?

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  23. Dear Rosemary,
    your posts are always so interesting, that I want to jump into the next aeroplane and come over to see for myself! The photo of the green hill of Glastonbury Tor is beautiful - and King Arthur's saga always casts a spell on me. (Though I never read the modern mystic? novels about Avalon).
    Thank you for sharing!

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    1. It is interesting the way the myths and folklore surrounding King Arthur and all the other characters in the plot seem to have gone all the way around the world - even before the internet!!!

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  24. Dear Rosemary, while reading this interesting post I notice what I have missed over the last few weeks not being online. The last picture is stunning - one would not notice the tragedy behind it. ---- Thanks for your today's comment. I am sorry you cannot watch the documentary but as Reverend Pete Owen Jones is well-known in the UK you have heard or seen other ones. I hope they were interesting too. Wishing you a wonderful evening! Christa

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    1. Dear Christa - lovely to hear from you. The Rev. Owen Jones did a series of programmes called Around the World in 80 Different Faiths which was very interesting. He is quite an amusing character with a quirky outlook on life.

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  25. Another exciting and magical destination to add to my ever expanding list Rosemary. Your photos are simply breathtaking, the last one in particular has such a calming energy.

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    1. Dear Paul - sadly the reality of the floods all over the Somerset Levels must be very stressful for those that live there and especially I wonder how the farmers with livestock are coping.

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  26. Probably? Such an interesting post, Rosemary! Happy weekend!

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    1. Probably, seems to be the consensus Satu.

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  27. Such a beautiful post Rosemary.
    Have a great sunday.

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    1. Thanks Marijke - hope you do too - the sun is out, and I am hopeful that the rain will stay away.

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“You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you - you have to go to them too.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh